Phi Beta Cons

How Should We Accredit MOOCs?

In addition to being costly, ineffective, and occasionally corrupt, our current college accreditation system is also slow to adapt to technological innovation.

Massive Open Online Courses, MOOCs, now provide anyone with an internet connection the opportunity to take high-level college courses online with little to no cost. But, due to lack of either will or creativity, accreditors have yet to develop a system for acknowledging the learning of those students who successfully complete courses of study through MOOCs.

At Inside Higher Ed, David Bergeron and Steven Klinsky argue for establishing a new “Modern States Accrediting Agency” that would ensure the quality and reputation of the innovative courses, make the credits transferable into the traditional system and which would be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as an approved accreditor in order to qualify students for federal student aid.

This is an interesting proposal, and a wider diversity of organizations ensuring educational quality is certainly a good thing. Furthermore, since MOOCs are so low-cost, the perverse incentives created by the connection between accreditation and federal student aid would be minimized.

Of course, it would be even better if the Department of Education got out of the business of recognizing accreditors and instead made the agencies prove their worth in the marketplace. As former Boston University president John Westling has said, accrediting agencies ought to be “accredited by their customers.”

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