Andrew Gillen, Daniel L. Bennett, Richard Vedder
TABLE 14 THE EFFECTS OF REPLACING ACCREDITATION WITH THE MARKET
Quality Improvement: Promote the Health and Efficiency of Higher Education:
Define (Appropriate) Measures of Quality:
Inform the Public: Certify Quality:
Note: (+) represents an improvement in performance in this category, (–) represents a deterioration in performance in this category, and (=) represents no change in performance in this category.
The Government Another alternative to the current accreditation system would involve shifting the quality assurance roles from the accreditors to the government. Some argue that “the federal government should not use accred- itors as its proxies; it should establish its own set of criteria for Title IV eligibility and enforce those stan- dards”158 This type of proposal has resurfaced throughout the post-1952 history of accreditation. One of the earliest pushes occurred in the early 1970s when the Newman Committee recommended a “compre- hensive, uniform, government-controlled system of eligibility for postsecondary institutions.”159
Such a government run system would be analogous to creating a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for higher education. The federal government would be directly in charge of determining the effectiveness of educational practices, and would allow those that it approved of while disallowing those that it did not, all supposedly in the name of protecting the public.
What Would Improve? Given the underlying trends that gave rise to the accountability movement, it is difficult to imagine scenarios under which an FDA of higher education would not be expected to lead to a number of improvements in the quality assurance area. For starters, we would expect to see improve- ment in the definition of appropriate measures of quality. To the extent that accreditors have stressed evaluating student learning, it is often at the insistence of the government. It is highly likely that the gov- ernment would continue to focus on devising methods of determining how much students learn. While the government would probably continue to rely too heavily on standards involving inputs, the additional focus on student learning would be most welcome.
We would also likely see improvement in the enforcement of minimum standards. Under the current system, accreditors are too reluctant to take away an institution’s accreditation. Comparatively, the polit- ical process shows much less restraint. Entire sectors have been known to come under attack, as evidenced by the most recent crusade against for-profit colleges. It is highly unlikely that diploma mills could be established or continue to operate for any significant length of time in such an environment.
Lastly, more information would be released under such a regime. Because they would not have a quality improvement role that relies on candid self-assessments, the government would not have as much potential to publish embarrassing things as the accreditors. Moreover, the government is accustomed to operating in a more transparent manner, and would not be as reluctant to release their major findings.
What Would Deteriorate? In contrast to the improvement we would see in the quality assurance func- tions, the health and efficiency of higher education would be dramatically hurt by an educational FDA.