Tilghman warns against ‘one-size-fits-all’ standards

During Princeton’s most recent accreditation review in 2004, the University shared plans for its highest priority at the time: a new residential-college system that would better integrate students’ residential and academic experiences.

Accreditation reviewers were “enormously helpful” in making suggestions, President Tilghman said. But reviewers no longer would consider such a project in assessing the University today, she said — “a sad comment on how far we have moved in the wrong direction in our approach to accreditation.”

With the Higher Education Act set to expire in 2013, an overhaul of the nation’s higher-education accreditation process is being discussed, and Tilghman offered four pages of suggestions in February to an advisory committee that will make recommendations to Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  

Colleges must be accredited for their students to receive federal financial aid, which has risen to an estimated $150 billion a year.  

Tilghman said the current review system wastes institutions’ time and money and does not protect taxpayers as it should. But she urged those who would reform the process to take a “do-no-harm” approach to the nation’s leading research universities, saying that they “are admired around the world” and serve as powerful economic engines.

Noting the increase in independent study, community-based learning programs and international study, she called for more flexibility and warned against a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Colleges and universities should be allowed to define their own educational mission “and to develop their own processes, standards, and metrics for measuring how effective they have been in realizing that mission,” Tilghman said.