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An Analysis of Higher Education Accreditation - page 28 / 60





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The Inmates Running the Asylum?

require them to use scarce resources to little or no purpose.”cxviii These often entail significant opportu- nity costs, diverting funds from better alternative uses. Prior to 1952, accreditors couldn’t force colleges to spend money because the associations and membership were voluntary. If an accreditor imposed a requirement that the institution disagreed with, the college could simply choose not to seek accreditation from that organization.

As so many other things, this changed once the accreditors were given gatekeeper functions. Accredi- tor “recommendations” would henceforth be viewed more appropriately as demands, and “few if any accreditation visits will end without some ‘suggestions’ for improvement that may affect the campus budget for many years.”126

Unfortunately, the “accreditation process rarely lends itself toward efficiency, productivity improve- ment, or ‘cost cutting.’”127 In fact, many of the accreditors’ demands drive up college costs while having a tenuous impact on the education provided.

The examples below are just some of the more blatant instances of accreditors recommending changes that indirectly drive up costs.

Demanding Lower Teaching Loads. The number of courses that professors teach in a term is referred to as their teaching load, and it can clearly affect the quality of teaching. Too many courses will leave profes- sors with insufficient time for preparation, office hours, grading, and advising. Professors are also often expected to perform other duties, such as conducting research and serving on administrative committees. It seems quite clear that the universities, departments, and professors are in the best position to deter- mine the appropriate teaching load based on all these factors, but accreditors have been known to inter- fere and demand lower course loads. For example, “Campbell University in North Carolina was placed on probation because its standard faculty teaching load was 15 hours per week. The accreditor insisted that 12 hours was the maximum acceptable load.”128 Complying with such a demand would require hir- ing many additional faculty members, which would obviously drive up the costs for the college.

Demanding Teachers Possess Certain Credentials. While there is little doubt that professors need to be knowledgeable about the subject material in order to be effective teachers, it does not follow that every instructor must possess a Ph.D or even a Master’s degree. As William James observed over a century ago, “Is not our growing tendency to appoint no instructors who are not also doctors an instance of pure sham? Will any one pretend for a moment that the doctor’s degree is a guarantee that its possessor will be successful as a teacher?”129 Nevertheless, “Accreditors’ recipe for educational inputs often includes the idea that colleges should employ individuals who hold ‘appropriate degrees’… Restricting hiring to indi- viduals with these credentials may not lead to better teaching, but is virtually guaranteed to drive up costs.”130

Demanding Excessive Planning. Leef and Burris note that “accreditation teams have a predilection for rec- ommending ever more planning by schools.”131 The incentive for accreditors to demand more study of issues like campus safety or diversity, regardless of the previous level of study, simply to provide cover for themselves. This excessive planning can entail the diversion of money and leadership effort away from potentially more appropriate uses.

While the examples listed above apply to most accreditors, by far the worst offenders in demanding spending with little regard to institutional circumstances or goals are the specialized accreditors. These


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