Degree Value at Risk: For-Profit Schools Inch Closer to Degree Equivalency

Category: Academics

Members of the House Education Subcommittee unanimously passed legislation last week that could undermine the value of degrees earned from all University of Tennessee, Board of Regents (TBR), and Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (TICUA) institutions.

SB1170/HB1091 authorizes for-profit schools that have only obtained national accreditation to award any degree of their choosing, such as a traditional Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree.  Currently, these institutions must utilize a qualifier when awarding degrees.  This qualifier does not imply transferability to regionally accredited institutions or comparable academic rigor.  The bill, now heading to the full House Education Committee, would remove the qualifier and imply to the prospective student that these degrees are of a similar quality as those awarded by regionally accredited institutions such as UT.

National accreditation is a lesser standard than the more rigorous regional accreditation obtained by institutions such as the University of Tennessee, the Board of Regents, and the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association.

Regional accreditation is the golden standard of higher education accreditation.  Under current rules, if an institution is not regionally accredited, they are required to have transfer agreements with at least two regionally accredited universities (one of which must be located in Tennessee) in order to award traditional academic degrees.

Existing rules make certain that degrees being offered by proprietary schools meet the rigorous standards of Tennessee SACS accredited colleges and universities.  SACS is the regional accrediting body for degree-granting higher education institutions in the southern states.

This bill will lead students to enroll in institutions under the mistaken belief that the degrees meet the same standards as degrees offered by the state’s regionally accredited colleges and universities.  This is not the case.

It should be noted that all institutions of higher learning may apply to become regionally accredited.  Many do not apply due to the cost involved in hiring highly qualified faculty and establishing sufficient curriculum and student learning resources.

Treating these institutions and the degrees they produce as equals without their meeting the same standards implies a level of academic quality and rigor that simply does not exist. Furthermore, it realistically jeopardizes the students in such programs by failing to provide any level of consumer protection.

This bill represents another attempt by non-regionally accredited proprietary institutions to obtain a loophole around the processes that the University of Tennessee, the Board of Regents, and the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association institutions go through regularly.

The bill is calendared for the Senate and House Education Committees the week of April 1.