- A new North Carolina law is requiring public colleges to change accreditors every cycle, which usually run between five to 10 years, forcing institutions to undergo a potentially lengthy and expensive process.
- The law exempts some professional, graduate, departmental and certificate programs — including those in law, pharmacy and engineering — because they must meet specific accreditation criteria. Colleges that cannot find a different accreditor before the cycle ends can remain with their current agency for an additional cycle, the law says.
- It also allows institutions within the University of North Carolina and North Carolina Community College systems to sue individuals who lie to accrediting agencies about institutions being noncompliant with their standards.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced earlier this month that he had signed the bill into law.
The bill contained other provisions, such as adding new high school graduation requirements. While Cooper praised those changes, he called the new accreditation requirements onerous and potentially costly, and recommended that state lawmakers revise them.
North Carolina's approach mirrors one taken by lawmakers in Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a similar bill into law in April 2022. Both statutes seemingly stem from feuds with the same accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Earlier this year, Belle Wheelan, president of SACSCOC, sent a letter to UNC-Chapel Hill requesting a report on how it was complying with its standards. Media coverage had sparked concerns that the creation of a new civic life school had not adequately involved faculty. Their absence in the process would run counter to higher ed’s shared governance model.
North Carolina's new law also requires the UNC system’s board of governors to create a commission to research alternatives to the current higher education accreditation process.
The commission must open its membership to stakeholders from other states and give lawmakers a report on its recruitment efforts by the beginning of next year. It will share its findings with the Legislature by September 2024.
This is not the first time North Carolina lawmakers have taken a swing at accreditation. A previous attempt to mandate accreditation changes passed the state Senate but stalled in the House.
The Legislature ultimately made the change by adding it to a bill addressing general statutes in the state. Critics accused lawmakers of slipping the modification in while a majority of attention was on the state's budget, bypassing the public eye.
"The move appears to be a continuation of NC Senate efforts to push an extremely costly, unnecessary, and burdensome change to the accreditation process on all UNC system schools and such a move could put Carolina’s accreditation at risk," said The Coalition for Carolina, a nonprofit dedicated to removing politicization from UNC-Chapel Hill, last week.
Florida changed its accreditation laws after SACSCOC raised concerns about then-state education commissioner Richard Corcoran’s candidacy for president of Florida State University in 2021. At the time, Corcoran was a member of the Florida university system’s governing board, which oversees presidential hiring, potentially creating a conflict of interest.
Florida State subsequently dropped him from the finalist pool. Corcoran has since been named president of the New College of Florida.
Florida sued the U.S. Department of Education over the accreditation process in June, arguing it unconstitutionally privatizes legislative power.
"We reject the idea that a totally unaccountable, unappointed, unelected accrediting agency can trump what the state of Florida is doing,” DeSantis said at the time.