Phi Beta Cons

If You’re Interested in Quality Higher Ed, Forget the Accreditors

That’s the message Alan Contreras conveys in this Inside Higher Ed piece. He starts off discussing an important California case involving accreditation and then tackles the question of educational quality. Is there any reason to expect that our accreditation system will generate it? He thinks not:

Accreditors are owned by their dues-paying member schools and shouldnever be expected to serve as enforcement arms of state or federal governments. They are arms of the colleges, dedicated to advancing the interests of their member schools. There is nothing wrong with that, but let’s give it the right name: a club of schools with similar interests and approaches, not an enforcement body (certainly not of federal standards), and not remotely capable of handling student complaints.

He’s right. Just as (I’m told by friends in the legal profession), state bar associations want to appear concerned about lawyer incompetence but hardly ever actually do anything; the accrediting associations want to appear concerned about educational quality, but aren’t going to do anything that would make many of their members unhappy.
Contreras goes on to make another important point: “Finally, the federal government has no business assuming a duty that constitutionally belongs to the states.” Bravo!
My question is whether there is any reason to expect state governments to do better than the accreditors in upholding educational standards. (Contreras observes that the authority to award degrees, even for private schools, always depends on state authority, so the states could take the reins on quality standards.) I suspect that the best we can hope for is that competition in the market for students will gradually bring about change in the direction of more educational value for the money.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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