Policy Brief: It’s Time for More States to Sack SACS

Getting and keeping accreditation is critical for almost all colleges in the United States. Accreditation is third-party validation that a college meets minimum standards. Not only is institutional accreditation required for participation in federal student loan programs, but without accreditation, it is hard (if not impossible) to be authorized to operate in a state.

Until recently, institutional accreditation was controlled by a cartel of “regional” accreditors that had divided the country into six regions. Accreditors would not trespass into each other’s turf. As a result, they each had monopoly power. 

All too often, they have abused their power. The most common abuses of power have been in the area of university governance, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) has abused its power most often. SACS, which historically has accredited colleges in 11 states, has intervened in the decisions of several of them. Accreditors also are becoming increasingly brazen in pushing colleges ideologically.

Fortunately, however, under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Department of Education made it easy for any regional accreditor to operate anywhere in the country—making these historically regional accreditors into national accreditors. Florida and North Carolina have taken advantage of this new federal flexibility by requiring public institutions of higher education to leave SACS and choose a new accreditor. In order to follow suit, some states also must change their laws or regulations so that no provisions default to a single accreditor.

It’s Time for More States to Sack SACS,” a policy brief by Adam Kissel, a senior fellow of the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, provides state-by-state guidance on how to align with federal flexibility in accreditation.