As of February 16, the Colleges have changed accreditors. Instead of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) setting the standards for your degree, the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) now does. But what does this mean?
Accreditation is one of the primary ways the U.S. government determines which educational institutions are legitimate and eligible to receive federal financial aid. Historically, accreditors have been divided into “regional” and “national,” with the former considered more prestigious and limited to a certain number of states, and the latter generally considered more lenient and allowed to operate nationwide. The different reputations persist, but after a change in regulations in 2020, the distinction was eliminated and former regional organizations were allowed to accredit schools outside of the states to which they were previously restricted.
How did the Colleges respond? Senior Associate Provost Jamie Makinster said, “We took it as an opportunity to reconsider our accrediting agency. NECHE has a significant focus on private, independent colleges, many of whom are our peer institutions. This was reinforced by our attendance at NECHE conferences over the past two years. NECHE was the first accreditor in the country, they support a few hundred schools, they are very relationship focused, and they pride themselves on staff support. We have appreciated the working relationship thus far.”
When asked whether this would affect students’ educational experience, MaKinster said that, “Because both agencies are structured around a similar set of standards, in the short term, the student experience will not be impacted. We expect that because NECHE is a better fit for who we are as an institution, then in the long term, HWS will likely do a more effective job at engaging in assessment and improvement at all levels including in the classroom, department/program, co-curricular centers, and institutionally.”