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Report 04-3: State Licensure versus Accreditation of Proprietary Schools and Colleges – A Review and Comparison of Roles and Functions

Published by The California Postsecondary Education Commission

March 2004

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For almost 30 years, the California Postsecondary Education Commission has been actively involved in the development of a strong and vigorous private postsecondary and vocational education presence in California. The private postsecondary sector offers training and education programs that range from short-term, vocational courses to comprehensive, multi-year degree offerings, and presently consists of some 2,800 institutions, including 300 private postsecondary degree-granting institutions.

The purpose of this report is to determine how best to ensure that California citizens will have high quality private postsecondary education opportunities and further, to assess the appropriate role for the State to play. It has been 13 years since the Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education Reform Act was passed, and a number of exemptions have been enacted or are being proposed that would alter the State’s oversight responsibilities for specific groups of accredited schools. For this reason, CPEC believes that the time is right to review and compare the structure and functions of both the state agency responsible for oversight of private institutions and the non-governmental accrediting agencies that accredit many of these schools. Secondly, the state legislature is currently conducting a “sunset review” of the Reform Act for the purpose of determining whether or not the law should be continued. Finally, Congress is discussing the issue of self-regulation and accreditation of colleges and universities in connection with the reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act.

Major conclusions include:

  • Both accreditation and State licensure address the issue of quality in the educational offerings of private postsecondary institutions, but are totally independent of each other.
  • State standards provide different protections for students and accreditation should not be viewed as an alternative or substituted for the adoption and enforcement of state standards. However, there are some areas where students and the public would be better served by streamlining state policies and coordinating the activities of the state with the activities of accreditation associations.
Specific recommendations include:

  • The state’s adoption of quality standards and the review process should take into consideration the standards adopted by and the review process used by accreditation associations so as to eliminate duplication and, wherever possible, strengthen the quality of educational programs;
  • The Reform Act should be revised such that it can be implemented more efficiently and effectively to ensure that students and school owners are treated equitably. Among the major factors that should be considered in revising the Reform Act are the following:
    1. The Reform Act should be simplified so that it can be more easily understood and effectively administered;
    2. Existing exemptions to the Act should be justified and no additional exemptions should be granted without careful consideration of the impact on student protections pertaining to both quality of instruction and financial issues; and
    3. The student loan default rate should be a criterion in the review of all private postsecondary education institutions.
The Commission approved this report at its meeting on March 9, 2004.
Related Topics: Performance of Higher Education | Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education

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