Phi Beta Cons

The Right Way to Reform Accreditation

Over at Inside Higher Ed, UCLA’s Alexander Astin has an important, but flawed piece on college accreditation and institutional autonomy. He argues that American higher education has remained relatively free of government interference, because our private accreditation system assures quality without centralized government standards.

Astin’s first mistake is overstating the autonomy and diversity of accreditation agencies. We don’t really have a “private” accreditation system, as he claims. We have a pseudo-private system in which accrediting agencies must be approved by the federal Department of Education. This is one of the reasons our system is so centralized and slow to adapt and change, a fact Astin acknowledges. Accreditors aren’t just peer-reviewers. They are also federally-sanctioned gatekeepers of government funds.

Furthermore, while universities may not often deal with government overreach, they deal with accreditor overreach all the time. At schools like the University of Virginia and Tiffin University, accreditors have repeatedly interfered with institutional autonomy. And it is precisely their role as government gatekeepers that empowers them to behave in this way.

Astin does get one point correct, however. He writes, “If the federal government … begins to engage in its own brand of quality control, American higher education is in for big trouble.” If “quality control” means detailed, top-down standards, this is probably true. And many have raised concerns of this nature regarding President Obama’s proposed college rating system.

But this is no excuse for maintaining the accreditation status quo. In fact, the system of private peer review Astin describes would work far better if federal money wasn’t at stake. (The relatively speedy accreditation of the free, online University of the People is a great example in this regard.)

We need to break the link the link between accreditation and Title IV funds. But instead of switching to direct federal quality control, we should simply require colleges to provide families with independently certified information in a clear and readily accessible format on an annual basis. This information would include cost of attendance; degree programs; graduation rates; student loan default rates; student outcomes; and job placement rates. To protect the federal dollar, schools would simply establish their financial stability through an independent audit.

Such a system would rely on transparency and consumer choice in order to maintain the quality of a college degree. And that’s the kind of system we should all be on board with.

Most Popular


On College Campuses, Where Are the Adults?

Last week, political scientist and author Charles Murray spoke at a dinner in Manhattan about the death, as he calledit, of the American Dream. The “Disinvitation Dinner,” is given annually by Lauren Noble’s William F. Buckley Jr. Program to honor a speaker who has been kicked off a college campus for ... Read More

Hurray for the NBA

Last month, just before the Final Four, I did a Q&A on college basketball with our Theodore Kupfer. Teddy K. is back, by popular demand, joined by two other experts: Vivek Dave, an old friend of mine from Michigan, who has long lived in Chicago, and David French, National Review’s Kentucky Kid, now ... Read More
Economy & Business

Trade Misunderstandings

I was distracted by other policy topics last week but not enough not to notice Peter Navarro’s article in the Wall Street Journal, headlined “China’s Faux Comparative Advantage.” Considering Navarro’s position in the White House, it is unfortunate that it demonstrates some serious misunderstandings ... Read More

Joy Reid Denies Writing Homophobic Blog Posts

MSNBC personality Joy Reid's former blog, The Reid Report, published a series of anti-gay posts, which she claims were added to the site after it was shut down, by a hacker intent on destroying her reputation and nascent cable-news career. Reid, who discontinued the blog roughly a decade ago, apologized in ... Read More

On Trade, No One Is Waiting for Washington

President Donald Trump’s flips and flops on trade are now as ubiquitous as his 5:00 a.m. tweets. Many predicted that trade-expansion efforts would come to a standstill and world commerce would suffer amidst all the uncertainty. Instead, the precise opposite has happened. In the last few months, it’s become ... Read More