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An Analysis of Higher Education Accreditation - page 19 / 60

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Andrew Gillen, Daniel L. Bennett, Richard Vedder

used to be provided by accreditation, while the focus on improvement ensured that the system was clouded in secrecy. Indeed, it is usually impossible for the public to discern whether real improvement occurs at all. We consider the accreditation system as largely a failure in this regard, since it neither provides useful infor- mation to the public, nor is transparent enough to give us confidence in accreditation decisions.

Promote the Health and Efficiency of Higher Education

While pursuing the quality improvement and quality assurance functions, it is desirable that the accred- itation regime does not undermine higher education’s overall health and efficiency. It is of the utmost importance to preserve higher education’s historical sources of strength, including institutional auton- omy and a wide diversity of institutional missions and practices. One of the strengths of American higher education, relative to the rest of the world, is precisely the large amount of real choices consumers have as to what institutions to attend. Similarly, research activity is no doubt enhanced by the diversity of cen- ters for exploring problems, often leading to more creativity than is present in monolithic systems under one set of controls.

It is also important that the efficiency of the sector not be undermined. Future progress depends upon fostering innovation, so it is important that accreditation does not suppress innovation by existing insti- tutions, nor act as a barrier to entry for new ones. It is also important to not unnecessarily increase costs.

Preserve Historical Strengths

Maintain Independence/Autonomy of Colleges One of the main reasons that American higher education is the envy of the world is that it has been free of governmental and political interference to a larger extent than the higher education sectors in other countries or even the K-12 education sector in this country. The importance of autonomy for institutions of higher education has been established in theory and verified by experience, and it has long been rec- ognized that accreditation plays a crucial role in muting undue political pressures on higher educa-

tion.77,78

In the words of A. Lee Fritschler:

Throughout history political involvement in the classroom has yielded negative conse- quences, including, most visibly, outright purges of faculty members and courses in Eastern Europe and prohibitions on teaching evolution in the United States. Less extreme but more prevalent are the bureaucratic excesses that result from political intrusion in the classroom; they are one of the things that account for the static higher- education systems in many Western European nations.79

Fritschler goes on to argue that “academic institutions perform best when government does not inter- vene in overseeing their core functions, namely definition of curriculum, teaching, evaluation of stu- dents, retention and promotion of faculty” since “one does not have to look back far in history nor farther than across the Atlantic to find examples where aggressive government intervention in the core functions has destroyed whole systems of higher education.”80 Fortunately, the general public grasps the impor- tance of autonomy for institutions of higher education, with four out of five Americans saying that “the best way to ensure academic excellence is to make sure politicians don’t interfere” and registering “dis- agreement with the idea that government should control what gets taught in the college classroom.”81

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