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An Analysis of Higher Education Accreditation - page 27 / 60





27 / 60

Andrew Gillen, Daniel L. Bennett, Richard Vedder

higher education from an inefficient system of the paper-based past to the modern and productive infor- mation-age economy. We therefore consider accreditation as performing unsatisfactory in this area.


Pre-1936 1936–1952 1952–1985


Barrier to Entry for New Innovative 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 Impose Unnecessary Costs Any system that serves the purposes that accreditation does will have costs associated with it. When eval- uating the current system, it is useful to distinguish between direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include line items such as membership fees, site visits, evaluation and in-kind expenditures to prepare for the process. These costs are generally relatively low.

In addition to the direct costs, there are indirect costs that follow from the actions necessary to com- ply with accreditation recommendations. These recommendations often encourage money to be spent in order to satisfy the accreditation committee. These costs are “borne by the institutions themselves” and can be substantial.119

Direct Costs. One of the greatest advantages of our current accreditation system is that as far as direct costs are concerned, it is dirt cheap, and always has been. In 1998, “the average total expenditure by pub- lic four-year institutions was $63,000.”cxiii If the system actually achieved all its stated goals, this would be considered a phenomenally cheap mechanism of improving and assuring quality.

The reason it is so cheap is that it relies heavily on faculty and administrator volunteers. In 2007, the regional associations“relied on 3,580 volunteers”from the colleges“compared with only 129 full-time staff.”121 While there are legitimate questions raised by such a heavy reliance on volunteers from the very colleges being accredited, that does not change the fact that the direct costs of the system are incredibly inexpensive.

The only real issue concerning the direct costs of accreditation is the fact that many institutions have to deal with many different accreditors. Indeed, about a quarter of survey respondents complained of the burden of “responding to the needs of multiple accreditors.”122 While this concern should not be dis- missed lightly—for example, “A medical school may be examined by 40 or 50 separate accrediting agen- cies,”—the overall conclusion remains that accreditation is relatively inexpensive in terms of direct costs.cxvi However, these low direct costs have not prevented some university administrators over the years from complaining about how much time, money, and energy are wasted each year by excessive reliance on personal visits of accrediting teams.”122

We therefore give accreditation relatively high marks in all periods for keeping direct costs low.

Indirect Costs. The indirect costs that universities face are the costs of complying with accreditors’ recom- mendations. Unfortunately, “Accreditors have a tendency to recommend actions by schools that will


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