How Are Accreditors Measuring Campus DEI Efforts?

Within the past year, multiple accreditation agencies and commissions have adopted updated principles regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in order to push for higher success rates among students.

While DEI has been a part of the standards for many years, it appears that many of the agencies are becoming stricter with colleges that are deemed as lacking in these areas. This is part of the broader efforts to ensure that institutions are taking proper initiatives to serve all students.

What is Accreditation in Higher Education and Why is it Important?

According to the CHEA Council for Higher Education Accreditation, accreditation is the is the quality of higher education institutions and programs. In the United States, accreditation is a major way that students, families, government officials, and the press know that an institution or program provides a quality education.

Accreditation is extremely important to higher education as the amount of Federal Student Aid a college receives is largely dependent on accreditation organizations. These private not-for-profit organizations are approved by the U.S. Department of Education to determine the aid, such as Pell Grants, these colleges receive. If a college isn’t accredited by one of these agencies, then this type of aid is not awarded.

Due to recent insight from the COVID-19 Pandemic, some of these agencies and institutions, including the Higher Learning Commission, became more aware of the inequities for certain students existing within higher education.

Prior to these realizations, diversity, equity, and inclusion, was still a part of their accreditation agencies standards, however it was not a requirement or as enforced as other parts of their standards.

The Impact of DEI in Minority Graduation Rates

A recent report shows that the United States has a 60% graduation rate for first-time, full-time, six year colleges across the board.

However, broken out by race, the graduation rates show a slightly different story. Graduation rates for Asian students is 74%, 64% for white students, 54% for Hispanic students, and 40% for Black students.

For example, California Lutheran University has seen success through rising graduation rates, 75% for six-year Hispanic students, but still received a notice of concern regarding its inclusivity.

Since then, the current University President took steps in order to craft a more inclusive environment through hiring high level faculty specifically to manage DEI programs and updating the curriculum, after receiving the notice of concern in early 2021.

Accreditation organizations are starting to see how having a more thorough diversity, equity, and inclusion plan can raise the graduation rates for minority groups.

Because of this, some of the major institutional accrediting agencies (including but not limited to The Western Commission, the Higher Learning Commission, the Middle State Commission, The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities) are adopting new requirements for members to incorporate principles of diversion, equity, and inclusion, referred to as abbreviated DEI, within the college’s mission.

The Impact of Increasing DEI Standards

These updated standards do not come without their own challenges for colleges, however. Supporting a more diverse student body and faculty could lead to increases expenses, especially early on.

Additionally, the standards set by accrediting agencies can often be vague and without specific guidance. Also, both the accreditors and colleges occasionally face political recoil when the political environment clashes with the accreditor’s standards.

The accrediting agencies have stated that if colleges and universities do not adopt inclusive practices, that a decline in admissions is inevitable within the next decade. This would in turn lead to a decline in revenue if proven accurate.

Overall, colleges need to be aware of these updates and the related challenges in respect to accreditor’s DEI expectations. Colleges might want to set aside specific preparation related to these actions, reading up on accreditor standards and language.

If you have any questions regarding the accreditation process and DEI, please contact a member of the Schneider Downs Higher Education Industry Group at [email protected].

About Schneider Downs Higher Education Services

The Schneider Downs Higher Education industry group is a dedicated team of experienced professionals specializing in serving institutions from high schools to universities. Our experience in audit and assurance, tax advisory, technology and data and more allow our professionals to stay ahead of the latest trends, developments and challenges within the education sector and provide timely and practical solutions to our clients. 

To learn more, visit our Higher Education Industry Group page. 

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