NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Quality Guarantee or a Waste of Money?

November 19, 2010

A recent report issued by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity takes a highly skeptical look at our system of college accreditation.  The authors, Andrew Gillen, Daniel Bennett and Richard Vedder, conclude that "accreditation in its current form needs to be abandoned entirely," says George Leef, director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

  • Gillen, Bennett and Vedder note that college accreditation depends overwhelmingly on the assessment of its inputs and procedures rather than on outcomes.
  • Schools that appear to be following the accepted model for education can get and keep accreditation.
  • They need to have completed a lot of paperwork such as institutional mission statements and self-study evaluations, have proper facilities, employ professors with good credentials, have sufficient financing and so on in order to earn an accreditor's stamp of approval.

Those requirements do prevent diploma mills from earning genuine accreditation.  Unfortunately, our accrediting system does not prevent "real" colleges and universities from operating with such low standards that many students graduate with pathetically poor skills in "the three Rs," says Leef.

The authors conclude that there are few, if any benefits to accreditation.  It does not ensure that the money taxpayers are putting into college subsidies is generating educational gains.

Gillen, Bennett and Vedder suggest several ways in which college accreditation could be improved, such as getting away from "binary" decisions (that is, either accredited or not), and allowing for competition among accrediting bodies (currently the main undergraduate accrediting associations have regional monopolies), but their key recommendation is that the federal government stop relying on accreditation as the determinant of eligibility for federal student aid funds.

Source: George Leef, "Quality Guarantee or a Waste of Money?" Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, November 17, 2010.

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