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Shaking up Higher Ed Accreditation

Our existing higher education accreditation system—the means by which the federal government determines which colleges can receive certain federal funds and award recognized degrees—is a mess. For instance, it chokes off healthy competition by preventing innovative academic programs and courses from getting a foothold in the market. And even the accrediting agencies are beginning more seriously to consider changes to the system. Politico reported on a recent gathering of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation on the morning of the event’s first day:

The Future Is Now: Where Is Accreditation?” is something many higher ed policy wonks have been asking themselves lately — and it’s the theme of this year’s conference of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation [.  . .]

“We’re convinced that significant change is upon us in accreditation, and the best thing that can happen is, indeed, that we lead it,” CHEA President Judith Eaton told Morning Education. Some of the ideas driving that change — risk-based institutional reviews, for example, or the need to move more quickly to revoke accreditation from a bad college actor like Corinthian — are “out of the comfort zone of, traditionally, what we have been doing for years,” she said. “This is what the public wants from us, and this is what government wants from us.”

A change like stripping failing schools of their federal subsidies could do some good on the margins. But, at the same time, if that means imposing more rigorous federal requirements, that could create its own set of problems: Colleges already spend an inordinate amount of money complying with regulations set by accreditors, and adding more might not only increase these costs but also make it even more difficult for promising new programs to get approved.

Perhaps a better approach could be to break the federal monopoly on accreditation by allowing other bodies, including local governments, corporations, and nonprofits, to accredit individual courses. This could give students greater flexibility, increase competition, and bring down overall higher education costs. But seeing how hesitant the current educational establishment is to accept changes to accreditation, don’t expect it to sign on to such a radical idea anytime soon.

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  • Fat_Man

    If they are accrediting the multiculturalism, grievance studies, and political correctness that the colleges are now peddling as an education, we can live without them, and they should be defunded and disbanded.

  • Blackbeard

    Control of education, along with control of the news media, the entertainment industry, and book publishing are all central to the Left’s long term plan to transform and dominate western civilization. Leftist ideas fundamentally don’t work (Witness, for example, the economic stagnation in Europe and increasingly in the USA.) so open debate and analysis of those ideas and their consequences cannot be permitted. The accreditation fight mentioned here is only a small part of the battle but do not expect the Left to give an inch without a bloody fight.

    • Jacksonian_Libertarian

      I think this should all be turned over the Credit Agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), which should accredit classes and a student’s completion of same, not colleges. And should automatically award degrees when certain milestones in classes and credit hours are reached. This would enable online classes to compete on a more level field with the traditional Schools, so expect the traditional Schools to resist with everything they’ve got.

    • Andrew Allison

      Not just the Left but Academia, but I repeat myself.

      • ljgude

        You put that torpedo right into the magazine Andrew.

  • Andrew Allison

    Given the manifest problems with for-profit colleges (corporations) and public employee union-controlled local governments, “allowing other bodies, including local governments, corporations, and nonprofits, to accredit individual courses” may be a step backwards. Much as I despise the university guild, a single, functioning, accreditation body (as opposed to the joke which is the current one) may be the best bet.Such a body should require solid educational requirements (absent the fluff referred to by Fat Man) and minimum 4-year graduation rates (I know this is wishful thinking, but let’s at least not move backwards)

    • f1b0nacc1

      While I agree with you in principle, I have been on the ‘inside’ of academe, and I have little hope that the happy scenario you describe would come to pass. One single accreditation authority (one ring to rule them all?) would simply be an easier target to capture, and regulatory capture in this case would have catastrophically bad effects.
      Destroy (and there is no kinder word for it) the foundation of higher ed’s effective monopoly on credential-granting (get rid of Duke v. Griggs), and you will get the effect that you are looking for. Go after the accreditation organizations with anti-trust law (you want MORE of them, not fewer…make regulatory capture harder to do), and you will advance the goals of real diversity in education.

      • Andrew Allison

        That’s why I called it wishful thinking [grin]. I addressed the issue of giving control of accreditation to, e.g., State and Local governments. The other issue I see with multiple accreditation is that the present disparity in the “quality” of a degree would increase dramatically if there were multiple accreditation agencies (how does one establish and enforce uniform standards of accreditation?). Wouldn’t it be easier to fix one than many? Let me offer an example: While State licensing of individuals (doctors, lawyers, Realtors, etc., seems to work reasonably well, that for “professions” (termite inspection, undertaking, etc..) has, in my experience, been completely captured and represents the interests of those supposedly being regulated..

        • f1b0nacc1

          I see the lack of uniform standards as a feature, not a bug. Multiple accreditation, whose reputations can be found online, are far harder to capture than a single monolith, and thus more resistant to corruption. I don’t share your positive view of licensing of lawyers, doctors, etc…in fact state medical and legal boards (both of which I have some limited experience with) are more often than not astoundingly corrupt and inefficient. The well-connected get away with murder (sometimes in the medical profession, quite literally), those without the connections…well, not so much…
          You are correct that it is easier to ‘fix’ one than many, but unfortunately ‘fix’ is also a word used in the corruption of sporting events….and it is that usage that is more appropriate here.

  • GS

    And why not extend the GED idea to the higher educational levels? Once a person passes a certain competency test [or a set of such tests], one could be given a corresponding degree, and the preparatory track one has taken should not matter at all. Just make these tests as tough as possible.

    • johngbarker

      The model to be used is already in place as physicians, CPA’s and lawyers already take test to license them. It is only a small step to devise a battery of tests to grant the BA or BS and consider of the various IT licenses that already are widely used and recognized by employers.

      • GS

        Why stop at BA/BS?

      • iconoclast

        Medical professionals take these exams as well. Doctors (and nurse practitioners?) must retake the exams periodically.

        Exam-based certification is still subject to the distortions of political correctness but anyone with the sense to raise a pencil can spot those questions and spout off the accepted answer (such as always assuming that the dominant culture in the USA is bad) while retaining their intellectual independence. It worked that way in much of the old USSR and will work that way in the Soviet-style culture so desperately desired by the US left.

    • FriendlyGoat

      An entrepreneur will probably do this—-because governments probably won’t.

      • GS

        It would not be so easy- each degree requirements have to be uniform, and therefore the administration of these tests would have to be done by a body with a significant territorial reach and clout – greater than that of an individual college or university. That would be an ideal function for the dept of idukashian, were it not heavily compromised.

  • Jim__L

    Fascinating data science project:

    Take as much data about student performance in specific classes, and student performance income-wise for the first 10 years after school, then track which specific classes provide the most value-add based on student performance in the classes.

    Accredit the classes, not the institution.

    • Andrew Allison

      Too dependent upon the teacher and coursework. The institution has a duty, albeit often ignored, to maintain the quality of the classes being taught. Perhaps a better idea would be to track the best cost/benefit ratios of schools. A more accessible statistic would be the would be the 4-year graduation rate. A school which accepts students many of whom have no hope of graduation or require six years of full-time study to do so should be avoided by anybody who want a good education..

    • iconoclast

      If you can get the income data that would be a great project. In fact, it would be a hoot to put together a linear regression package to predict your likely income based on several thousand parameters.

      Interestingly, I suspect that adding NCAA athletic involvement might be significant too. Even the SVD would be fascinating.

      But getting access to true income data would prove to be virtually impossible. sad.

  • Ofer Imanuel

    Opening accreditation is clearly against the financial incentives of our universities. If a class from Corsera or Edx at, say, $300 can substitute one from a regular university at $2000, what will that do to the univerities revenue stream?

  • Tom_Tildrum

    This post is a bit garbled. The US Department of Education does not have a federal monopoly on accreditation. Rather, it has the sole authority to approve accrediting agencies. Thus, it is not necessary to “Break the federal monopoly to achieve the desired goal; instead, the Department could simply decide to approve a wide range of accreditors as this post suggests.

  • ljgude

    Look at what is happening in CERTS – you pass the Microsoft or other exam on an aspect of computing and you can get a job on the basis of it. It doesn’t have to be called accreditation. All the people with the jobs have to do is say we want the following collection of certs this week; people with other qualifications need not apply. A cert company I happen to know about ITPRO.TV costs about $50 a month and has both on line lab facilities and practice exams. MIT !!! uses them. Huh? I guess if your MIT degree requires you have certain certs, MIT thinks that is a good way to get them. That is pretty good certification right there! The future of education is already happening. All that expensive infrastructure. all those ideologically disabled professors, all those administrators. They are ready for the slaughter.

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