What Are Some of the Problems with Accreditation?
What Are Some of the Problems with Accreditation?

The Need for Accreditation Reform

Robert C. Dickeson

Summary: Accreditation of higher education in the United States is a crazy-quilt of activities, processes and structures that is fragmented, arcane, more historical than logical, and has outlived its usefulness. Most important, it is not meeting the expectations required for the future. This paper distinguishes between the institutional purposes and the public purposes of accreditation, and suggests one significant alternative to the status quo.

What Are Some of the Problems With Accreditation?

1. America's reputation for quality higher education is in jeopardy of slipping.
  • The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development in Paris recently reported that, among its 30 member nations, the United States now ranks 7th in the percentage of the population that enters postsecondary education and then completes a bachelor's degree or postgraduate program. In large part, this statistic is due to higher education's dismal record at student attainment. Accreditation should identify and report on student success. By so doing, students and families can make enrollment decisions based on better information, institutions can be put on notice to improve student success rates, and policy makers can reward institutions that achieve high success goals.

  • The National Assessment of Adult Literacy, released in December, shows that the average literacy of college educated Americans declined significantly from 1992 to 2003, and revealed that just 25 percent of college graduates scored high enough on the tests to be deemed "proficient" from a literacy standpoint. What role should accreditation play in this shameful outcome? From what institutions did these adults graduate? If accreditation is to have any meaning, achieving standards of literacy - prose, document and quantitative - should be at the core of institutional approval by accrediting organizations.

  • Fully one-third of students enter postsecondary education needing academic remediation in reading, writing and/or mathematics. Accreditation should evaluate the efficacy of institutional admissions policies and practices: are institutions admitting students who have some reasonable expectation of success, or are they playing a numbers game for financial purposes? Has the inflow of under-prepared students resulted in a lowering of standards for graduation? Institutional assessment at the course level is undertaken through the assignment of grades, and yet grade inflation is reported as a national problem. What is accreditation doing to assure that quality is not suffering as a result?

  • A recent survey of 4-year college presidents revealed that 74.5 percent of presidents feel that "Colleges and universities should be held more accountable for their students' educational outcomes." Accreditation should transform this impression - shared by many in the public and by public policy makers - into reality.

2. The public's need for critical information is not being met.
  • Students and parents lack reliable information about college-going, including admission requirements, available programs, actual costs, the availability and extent of financial aid, and the range of accessible postsecondary options. Accreditation should insist on greater transparency by colleges and universities in the information they share publicly, and expect that the public has complete access to relevant data about college access, costs, attainment success and the extent to which standards were enforced.

  • Higher education institutions and their associations have ignored repeated requests for transparency by national commissions and higher education organizations (National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education (1997); Business-Higher Education Forum (2004); Association of Governing Boards Ten Public Policy Issues for Higher Education (2005), to cite a few). Accreditation should include transparency as a condition of continued approval.

  • Accrediting organizations do not all agree that the public either needs additional information or that sharing it is wise. Some accreditation leaders fear that more public disclosure will result in: an adversarial, rather than collegial, accreditation process; a smothering of trust critical to self-analysis; unwanted press coverage of school problems; and schools withholding information. Still other accreditation leaders deny the very existence of public demand for more information and point out that typical accreditation reports do not contain the kind of information that the public wants. Finally, some accreditation leaders understand that more information is necessary, and observe that other countries' institutions provide it without negative effect.

  • In the absence of accreditation providing information that the public wants, the void has been filled by U.S. News & World Report, whose annual analysis and rankings of institutions has become the most popular publication of that organization. Institutions that complain about the U.S. News approach to public accountability should insist that accreditation organizations fulfill this responsibility by asking the right questions - and publishing the answers.

3. Traditional approaches to accreditation are not meeting today's needs.
  • Technology has rendered the quaint jurisdictional approach to accreditation obsolete. Some standards actually vary by region. The rise of distance learning and electronic delivery of educational content across borders means that provider and student can be nations apart. Campuses and content today ignore geographic boundaries. More and more students are crossing state lines to complete their education and enrolling in multiple institutions, often simultaneously. Accreditation should refocus efforts on student achievement for the growing number who undertake alternative forms of education, and expand international quality assurance efforts.

  • Accreditation currently settles for meeting minimal standards. Nearly all institutions have it, very few lose it, and thus its meaning and legitimacy suffer. Institutions are not accepting credits from other accredited institutions, presumably because they do not believe that accreditation equals quality. Basing accreditation on truly rigorous standards and differentiating among levels of quality attainment would more accurately reflect the higher education landscape. If there were levels of accreditation, institutions would compete for honored spots (much as they do now for U.S. News rankings) and higher education's stakeholders could differentiate among institutions, depending upon stakeholder interests.

  • Accreditation is conferred typically for a ten-year period. Historically this term made sense when faculty volunteers were required to write self-studies and to perform site visits. The explosion of knowledge, the power of information technology and the pace of institutional change, however, have made a decade too long a period for timeliness. Accreditation should concentrate on key qualitative and quantitative measures that can be collected, retrieved, analyzed and published on a continuous basis.

  • Accreditation structure is archaic and contains too many layers and filters. For example, public concerns are expressed through elected officials, who communicate to CHEA, which communicates with accrediting organizations that communicate finally to institutions. The complaint process of the accrediting organizations is hardly user-friendly, and the stated policies about complaints make it clear that the accrediting organization will not interfere with institutional prerogatives. This process reflects the criticism that accreditation is the captive of the institution.

  • Most of the costs of accreditation in the United States are borne by the institutions themselves. Costs include the dues and fees paid to regional, national and specialized organizations, the released-time granted to faculty and staff who volunteer to serve accrediting organizations, and the labor and technical costs of conducting institutional self-studies. As institutions are under pressure to cut costs, conducting quality accreditation should not be diminished or jeopardized.

  • There is an over-reliance on volunteers in the important accreditation process. As institutions hire fewer and fewer full-time faculty, there are increasing pressures on such remaining faculty to fulfill on-campus duties and also meet external accreditation responsibilities.
It's a miracle if you can actually get CHEA to answer a question. They act as if they have more important things to do than respond to ordinary citizens. Maybe they are too busy cashing those checks they get from the accreditors. You know, those people they are supposed to regulate and monitor.
A.S., B.S., M.B.A.
Randall Flagg Wrote:It's a miracle if you can actually get CHEA to answer a question.  They act as if they have more important things to do than respond to ordinary citizens. Maybe they are too busy cashing those checks they get from the accreditors. You know, those people they are supposed to regulate and monitor.

Corruption within CHEA, no, tell me its not so. Well that will change, now that junior G-man George Gollin is on the CHEA payroll.
Two problems with accreditation I see are it's arbitrary and it's political.
Richard Kimble Wrote:Two problems with accreditation I see are it's arbitrary and it's political.

A third to add to that list is that it can be bought.
A fourth:
Yale is accredited and is a fine school.
Union Institute and UOP are accredited and are toilets.

By being able to say all are accredited, some people get fooled into believing that bad and good are almost the same, CRAP.  The good schools don't require accreditation to be known as good and the bad schools aren't made better by being called,  accredited. It's like pouring sugar on a big pile of fresh cow dung and saying it's just the same as cake, NO IT'S NOT.  A good school includes education and a fine reputation, schools like Union just take your money, hand you a diploma, and you get the education part somewhere else, or not at all. Then you get to go round lying about making 350k (Douglas) while you work as the prison guard (Douglas) or drive a truck (Levicoff), maybe even get to go bankrupt (Gus) or, sell porn to youth (Chip White).  My, my, but these wonderful schools do produce some fine, successful, interesting, people.  Interesting as in losers and sick.
A.S., B.S., M.B.A.
Randall Flagg Wrote:A fourth:
Yale is accredited and is a fine school.
Union Institute and UOP are accredited and are toilets.

I would add Northcentral to the accredited toilet category.  

What are some accredited non-traditional (DL or otherwise) schools of the non-toilet variety?  I'd say American Military University fits the bill.  Any others?
There are a good many accredited schools that will do what they advertise. The problem with the lesser schools touted by DI/DD is that they promise the moon and deliver the basement. Now for many people just about any legal school will do and that is just fine, but, if you need more, and some do, then such as Union will not suffice. I would hate to show up at Yale with two TESC or two Excelsior degrees and apply for a position as a professor. I'm afraid the laughter would be very B-A-D. Now for sure, the boys at DI will tell us that if it's RA that's all that matters, but, you know, that just isn't so. Many times it does matter and they, more than most truly know it, and yet they continue to lie to people and suck them into those 90-120 day degrees with promises of glory and high wages, and guess what? the factory workers and the box stackers find out that you really can't be the CEO of General Motors with little business experience and two quicky degrees from the bottom end RA schools. You also can't teach at Harvard with nothing but these degrees.

It seems that some schools are a little more RA than others.

Now don't get me wrong. If a 110 day degree from TESC will do what you want, great, do it, but don't get one figuring that you have just done the same thing as some kid spending 5 years at Princeton or Stanford.

ALL accredited schools are good for some things, just not ALL things. You have to know what you want, need, and the truth about these DL schools, and DI / DD very often will lie to you for their own reasons and are not looking to your best benefit but to theirs.

Use the schools that you prefer, just don't tell me that ice cream and mud are the same thing just because you have dirty lips.

For me, California Coast is a good school usable in many situations, but, it is not Harvard, and no, you won't be teaching physics at Yale with one of these degrees, but you might just be the next manager at K-Mart, if you have some business experience and work hard.
A.S., B.S., M.B.A.
James accurately describes the major problems with accreditation. It is the perception by an uninformed consumer (adult student) that regional accreditation alone is a guarantee of a school's quality. This is due in large part to people like our friends Bear, Bomber, Gus, Janko, etc., each of whom has done their best to perpetuate and spread this distortion.

The public will spend more time researching their next electronics purchase than researching the DL program they will enroll in. They look at accreditation (RA- the gold standard), cursorary glance at a specific program and the out-of-pocket cost and ... decide to enroll. Hey, they say, it's accredited, even though they haven't done an in-depth assessment if it is a program that will achieve short and long-term career goals.
Quote:if it is a program that will achieve short and long-term career goals.

Quote:What you mean is addressed unofficially with market research, employment fairs, employment research...EG annual reviews of UK universities (TIMES, THE GUARDIAN ) publish even ranking about employment, EG Oxford University's philosophy had a 10/10 employment ratio, etc...how reliable their findings are is one's guess.
Most universities love to showcase a few celebrity graduates who got important jobs, but what about the other 90-95% graduates?
Second, for all you know they got the job via another degree they hold; family connections; backstage dealing or other way unrelated to schooling.
Often universities qualify their unofficial statements: all our XYZ science graduates receive an average of N job offers

Our postgraduates rank higher with average salaries of XYZ

Then you usually have asterisks with disclaimers...the top ten percent of 1990-95 classes; the fifty-eight (out of five hundreds twelve ) surveyed, whatever.

Sure, Cambridge might be a better introduction in itself than Lampeter, but think about how much you paid for it.

right now even top universities' employment rates are mostly massaged ads for what might or might not happen.
A.A Mole University
B.A London Institute of Applied Research
B.Sc Millard Fillmore
M.A International Institute for Advanced Studies
Ph.D London Institute of Applied Research
Ph.D Millard Fillmore

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