Phi Beta Cons

Consumer-Friendly Plan for Replacing Accreditation

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has published a trenchant report on the present system of higher education accreditation. As ACTA observes, “one looks in vain for instances where accreditation has been denied because of low educational value to students.” 

Robert C. Dickeson, who wrote a report on the same subject for the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, argued similarly that current accreditation practices are producing neither adequate academic outcomes nor institutional transparency. By way of solution, he proposed that the present system by replaced by a public-private organization to be called the National Accreditation Foundation. 
Professor Mitchell Langbert disagrees with this proposal in a piece titled “Regulatory Capture and Dickeson’s Proposed National Accreditation Foundation,” which (as Langbert writes) “does not resolve the misalignment of incentives.” Because universities and government would serve on the NAF board, he rightly points out that this “governmentally-based accreditation bureau would result in universities’ capture of the accreditation process.” 
Langbert instead proposes a two-fold “consumer-oriented” and results-oriented solution: “a privately funded Campus Consumers Union modeled after the Consumers’ Union that produces the magazine Consumers’ Reports” combined with the basing of “accreditation for federal government purposes (e.g., granting of financial aid) on student performance [as measured by value-added testing]….” 
Langbert’s innovative proposal would give students and parents the information they need to evaluate whether campuses are providing high-quality education. His incentives-geared solution makes sense and deserves consideration.

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