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An Analysis of Higher Education Accreditation - page 35 / 60





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Andrew Gillen, Daniel L. Bennett, Richard Vedder

The reason for linking the two at the time of the GI Bill was to protect against the squandering of federal funds on institutions that provided an education in name only. Experience has shown, however, that many accredited institutions now provide an edu- cation in name only. If accreditation ever served as a reliable proxy for acceptable edu- cational quality, it no longer does.153

Moreover, some believe that recent legislation has effectively already “removed their quality assurance role altogether, saying it is essentially up to the institutions to decide what ‘quality’ is, while accreditors are presumably left free to meddle, as they often do, in matters unrelated to educational quality.”154 In other words, accreditors to date have not performed the quality assurance role effectively, and Congress has mandated that they not at all do so. There is therefore little reason to continue to tie accreditation sta- tus to institutional eligibility.

What Would Improve? Cutting the tie between accreditation and federal funding would have a few advantages. Accreditation would once again be completely voluntary, and because accreditors would no longer have quasi-governmental power, they could no longer essentially force institutions to do what they wished. This would allow colleges to ignore inappropriate recommendations from accreditors. Institu- tions would therefore gain much more freedom of action, leading to improvement in the maintenance of institutional autonomy and diversity, a reduction in the suppression of innovation by existing colleges, a reduction in barriers to entry by new colleges, and a reduction in costs.

What Would Stay the Same? The definition of appropriate measures of quality would likely stay the same. The accreditors currently refuse to actually define what students should get out of college, and they largely do so at the behest of the colleges themselves. The colleges are supposed to individually determine what quality means, and removing the accreditors from the equation would not change this.

The information provided to the public would probably stay roughly the same. While the current sys- tem does an abysmal job of providing the public with information, there is little reason to expect that to change. It is likely that we would see the emergence of a class of certifiers that distinguish schools along various criteria, essentially ranking the colleges. However, there is nothing stopping the emergence of organizations that could do this under the current system. Moreover, several major publications already publish rankings of colleges, so it is not clear how much more information would be provided by the implicit rankings provided by the new accreditors.

What Would Deteriorate? We would expect to see deterioration only in the certifying of quality. Some argue that letting the market perform this task would be acceptable:

The self-interest of students and parents reduces the problem of fraudulently low-quality education that the accreditation requirement was supposedly needed to prevent to one of de minimis proportions. If there were instances of educational fraud by institutions receiving federal funds, it would be better policy to ban them from receiving federal funds for a period of years than to compel all to participate in an accreditation system that has, in the view of some observers, more cost than benefit to educational institutions. That is the approach the government takes with the Food Stamp program. Rather than


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