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An Analysis of Higher Education Accreditation - page 25 / 60





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Andrew Gillen, Daniel L. Bennett, Richard Vedder

student learning. Such a shift would, incomprehensibly, put it at risk of losing federal recognition as an accreditation agency. Thus, “ironically, ABET… voluntarily withdrew from the recognition system because it wanted to focus more directly on student learning outcomes and concluded it could not fol- low that path the way it wanted to while maintaining federal recognition.”109

Some continue to insist that accreditors do not suppress innovation, pointing out that there are processes by which innovative programs can be implemented. What they often fail to mention is that these same processes often throw insurmountable obstacles in the way. For instance, the time required by one accreditor “for an innovative program to be approved is eight years.” This quite clearly is an example of “a process that lends itself to maintaining the status quo”civ while pretending to be open to innovation.

Wherever accreditors have set standards or requirements, institutional innovation has been sup- pressed. A university cannot try a creative new approach to providing access to library materials if the accreditor insists on doing things the traditional way. Consider for example the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). They have numerous “accreditation requirements related to faculty, student devel- opment, curriculum, and innovative programs.” Carol S. Drolen argues that these requirements “deter curriculum innovation” and that “in addition to the very real possibility that this standard infringes on academic freedom” it also potentially reduces educational quality since “it very likely deters faculty in some situations from using the texts or instructional strategies of their choice, specifically ones that are the most creative and innovative.”111

Evaluation: Don’t Suppress innovation by Existing Colleges. In light of the evidence mentioned above, we view accreditation’s performance on the dimension of not suppressing innovation by existing institu- tions as deteriorating from exceptional (pre-1952), to satisfactory (1965 to 1985), to unsatisfactory in the post-1985 era.


Pre-1936 1936–1952 1952–1985


Suppression of Innovation by Existing Colleges

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N o t e : N A = n o t a p p l i c a b l e , ( + ) = s u p e r b p e r f o r m a n c e , F = failure.

= s a t i s f a c t o r y p e r f o r m a n c e , ( ) = u n s a t i s f a c t o r y p e r f o r m a n c e , a n d

Don’t Be a Barrier to Entry for New Innovative Colleges New colleges are an even more important source of new ideas for improving higher education and one of the best ways to disrupt the status quo. Ensuring that new and innovative colleges can be established requires that the quality control mechanism is not used as a barrier to entry.

When accreditation was completely voluntary, the barrier to entry problem had not yet developed. Accreditors could of course deny a college their accreditation, but since that decision was not tied to any federal money, the extent to which this discouraged new colleges was negligible.

From 1965 to 1985 we believe that accreditation was reasonably satisfactory in this regard. The system started out reasonably hospitable to different and new institutions (as long as it wasn’t for-profit). Even


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