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Higher Ed Shake Up
Obama Cracks Down on College Accreditors

In an attempt to force colleges to produce better outcomes for students, the Obama administration announced today that it would require federally sanctioned accrediting agencies to start cracking the whip more aggressively. Inside Higher Education reports:

The Obama administration is trying to ratchet up already growing pressure on accrediting agencies to focus more intently on whether colleges are graduating students with the skills they need to get jobs and repay their loans.

Officials on Friday unveiled a package of “executive actions” aimed at cracking down on college accreditors, which the administration argues are not holding colleges to high enough standards when it comes to evaluating the success of students.

The actions are far less aggressive than many accreditation experts had anticipated, and the administration said that it was significantly constrained by a Congressional ban on the Education Department setting specific accreditation standards involving student outcomes. But the relatively limited actions were accompanied by a much more aggressive set of proposals on the administration’s legislative wish list.

It’s easy to understand why this administration—like the Bush administration before it—is taking this approach to improving higher education quality. After all, far too many students graduate from expensive degree programs without the skills they need to stay afloat after college—especially when you add in the weight of their student loan debts. Toughening accreditation requirements seems like it could force colleges to up their game.

But efforts like this are likely to only improve quality on the margins, if at all. The primary effects of the existing accreditation system are to protect existing institutions, shut alternative educational delivery methods out of the marketplace, and hike tuition costs by forcing campuses to comply with onerous and often irrelevant requirements.

The existing system could surely be tweaked or improved, as the administration is trying to do—but a far better alternative would be to break the federal monopoly on accreditation altogether. As of now, only federally approved agencies can accredit educational programs. Allowing private institutions (including companies and nonprofits) to credential individual courses would give students more flexibility to pick an educational path that suits their needs and inject competition into an industry where it is sorely needed.

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  • Anthony

    “But efforts like this are likely to only improve quality on the margins, if at all. The primary effects of the existing accreditation system are to protect existing delivery institutions, shut alternative methods out of the marketplace….”

    Post brings to mind societal “role and function” of Higher Education; is it to train men and women for jobs (commerce) or is it to guide developing minds facilitating appropriate behavior for civic engagement? Perhaps, it is a combination of both and more. To this end, what are we accrediting (the analytical plot lines: consequences or the evaluative plot line: value judgments). In particular accreditation being another evaluation metric used to judge outcomes, are we as a society clear what outcomes associated with higher education ought to be accredited. By the way, NASA is accepting applications for astronauts.

    • Boritz

      To provide an institutional framework for the support of Socratic rationalism in the marketplace of ideas.
      To produce an educated citizenry equal to the task of self-governance (applies only to democracies).
      To produce an educated workforce to fill the needs of business and commerce.
      I’m waiting to hear from Juilliard.

      • Anthony

        I’m with you.

  • Jim__L

    The solution is NOT more government!

    Just put the educational institutions on the hook for a portion of their students’ loans if the students go bankrupt.

    • Kevin

      I agree with both points.

      Accreditization is pretty useless. It’s just a guild protection measure to prevent competition and ramp up expenses. It focuses too much on inputs (library, tenure, etc.).

      Give universities skin in the game regarding their student’s economic prospects. Schools have by far the best information on which courses are likely to benefit which students – incentivize them to act in the students’ (and taxpayers’) interests rather than the current system of getting gullible 18 year olds to sign away their future for whatever BS coursework schools can convince them to take.

      • f1b0nacc1

        I’ve had to deal with the accreditation mafia in the past, and they are worse than useless, they are in fact a huge part of the problem. They were long ago taken over by the folks in the university education departments (the wonderful folks who have destroyed the K-12 system), who have now decided to share their wisdom with the one part of the educational system that was still (semi-)functional.

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  • Anthony

    Educational attainment in the United States, indeed, is generally so… that high level jobs like engineers, scientists, technicians, etc. are filled….

  • Boritz

    Then there is Harvard Business School which for years refused to seek accreditation from the AACSB, the primary accrediting agency for university business schools, because they didn’t want to be bound by their requirements and at the time didn’t care whether they were accredited.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “Allowing private institutions (including companies and nonprofits) to credential individual courses would give students more flexibility to pick an educational path that suits their needs and inject competition into an industry where it is sorely needed.”

    I agree, and have said so many times that I think the Credit agencies should be doing the credentialing, and it should be done on a class by class basis. For example: A Degree should get awarded when the standard requirements, hours, and credits, are met, without regard to where or when the classes were completed.

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