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Executive Fire Officer Program`s Entrance Criteria Are Changing

The National Fire Academy (NFA) has a policy in place that only allows students with bachelor degrees from regionally accredited colleges and universities to be considered for the Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP). The primary reason for the policy has been to assist in selecting students with a high probability of success in a demanding curriculum and to maintain high standards in the EFOP.

In recent years, increasing numbers of graduates from nationally accredited schools have applied for and been denied entrance consideration. That has led to interest by some in changing that policy. The request has been denied in the past—with a stated intent to review the situation further in the future. A few months ago, I began that review. The primary focus of the review was to compare regional and national accreditation and their respective relevance to an impact on quality of education.

The Situation

The following is an excerpt from the Council on Higher Education (CHEA), who works closely with the American Council of Education (ACE), regarding accreditation (2009):

Accreditation has a complex relationship with government, especially in relation to funding higher education. It adds value to society through assuring quality, enabling government to make sound judgments about the use of public funds, aiding the private sector in decisions about financial support and easing transfer of credit.

Recognition in the United States is about scrutiny of the quality and effectiveness of accrediting organizations. Recognition processes are similar: self-evaluation based on standards, site visit and report, award of recognition status. Recognition adds value to society as a vital part of accreditation accountability or "accrediting the accreditors."

The Research

Beginning with materials from CHEA and ACE, I surveyed the literature and carefully reviewed work in progress by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI).

In September 2010, the NACIQI received a broad charge to provide advice to the Secretary of Education on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The NACIQI undertook an extended dialogue that included a focus on accreditation and issued a report in April 2012.

My research included speaking with postsecondary educators and meeting with senior officials in the Department of Education (ED). I found varied opinions and recommendations related to the NFA policy, but the consensus recommendation was to not deny the transfer of credit or admissions exclusively on the basis of the type of accreditation.

I found that the ED was reviewing its listed accreditors and will do so periodically in the future. It's their intention to require and maintain quality in educational programs they support, through reliance upon working relationships with the experts—national and regional accrediting agencies.

In addition to information gained during discussions with ED officials, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported: "the accrediting agencies the GAO reviewed generally adhere to the principle that institutions should not accept or deny transfer credit exclusively on the basis of a sending institution's type of accreditation."

Based on numerous findings, I concluded that the NFA needed changes to the policy and process for student evaluation of acceptability into EFOP.

Actions Taken

After the research and review process, I requested the NFA's board of visitors (BOV) to appoint a subcommittee to provide recommendations for revising the evaluation of EFOP applications.

The subcommittee submitted recommendations for consideration by the full BOV. The board approved the recommendations; upon receipt of the final document, I will discuss the proposal with staff from ED and USFA before finalizing a revised policy.

When finalized, the academic portion of EFOP entrance evaluation will transition from categorical, degree-based criteria to one that includes a degree, but is transcript based, as is the case with many postgraduate programs. Academics clearly stated that accreditation type alone doesn't guarantee a quality education.

Yes, there will be a change in the EFOP academic evaluation criteria and it will allow degrees awarded from all institutions accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the ED. EFOP review will include additional academic requirements, maintaining and perhaps elevating the standard of quality EFOP requires.

If you're interested in EFOP, I strongly recommend you research the accrediting agencies of schools you attend and determine their standing with the ED.

Ernest Mitchell is the U.S. fire administrator, appointed and confirmed in late 2011. He was IAFC President 2003-2004, and he retired as fire chief in Pasadena, Calif., in 2004.

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