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E.D. Renews Recognition of Accrediting Association

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Washington--Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander last week renewed federal recognition of a regional accrediting agency that he had singled out for scrutiny because it required institutions to meet a cultural-diversity standard.

In a memo sent to the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Mr. Alexander said changes to the diversity standard made by the association's membership at a December 1991 meeting "satisfy my concerns, provided that those changes are appropriately implemented.''

Following a recommendation by a federal advisory committee, the Secretary renewed the recognition for Middle States' Commission on Higher Education, its accrediting wing, for four years. Five years is customary.

The association will be required to submit annual reports detailing accreditation deferrals or denials based on the diversity standard and any related complaints or conflict-of-interest problems. (See Education Week, Feb. 12, 1992.)

The spat between the Secretary and Middle States has been closely watched by the higher-education community. Before institutions can participate in federal financial-aid programs, they must be accredited by a federally recognized agency.

Some educators said that Mr. Alexander's position was insensitive to those who argue for increased minority representation on campus, and that it is improper for a federal agency to dictate what criteria are appropriate for accreditation.

Patricia McGuire, the president of Trinity College and a member of the Commission on Higher Education, said the association is "delighted'' with Mr. Alexander's decision.

"We are viewing this decision by the Secretary [as one where] he is as eager as we are to put this matter behind us,'' she said.

Mr. Alexander said in the memo that the controversy highlighted "the powerful relationship between accreditation and federal financial aid'' and said it "has profound implications for the avowed 'voluntary' nature of accrediting agencies.''--M.P.

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