The Inmates Running the Asylum?
indirect costs would be lower, since specialized accreditors would be marginalized. Specialized accreditors are a major source of higher costs in higher education, and reducing their power to“recommend”additional spending in their field would yield significant costs savings.
What Would Deteriorate? Just as with the governmental model, we would likely see deterioration in the health and efficiency of higher education under a centralized accreditor. While a centralized accreditor would be more attune to institutional concerns regarding autonomy and diversity than the government, they could suppress the freedom of action of colleges just the same. As Judith S. Eaton says, such a sys- tem would “undermine the strength and diversity of U.S. higher education.”156 Moreover, the lack of other accreditors with which to compare actions would make it less likely that unduly restrictive actions would be noticed and addressed. The FASB model for recognizing accreditors comes out better than the national accreditor in this regard, since it theoretically allows for multiple accreditors, analogous to the existence of multiple ratings agencies within the financial sector. But it should be noted that under such a system, all the different accreditors would be pushed in the direction of uniformity.
By centralizing quality control, the new system would also reduce the ability of new and existing col- leges to innovate. Under the current decentralized system, there are escape hatches – just because one accreditor refuses to allow some innovative new practice doesn’t mean that they all will. But when there is only one accreditor (or if they all make similar decisions because they are all accredited themselves by
one organization), than there would be no such escape hatch.167 analogous to direct governmental control.
Such a scenario would be dangerously
Would Such a System Be Appropriate? A national accreditor or an accreditor of accreditors would not be appropriate, except as the only viable alternative to the federal government acting as accreditor. A national accreditor would be better than a government accreditor, but not by much. Similarly, an accred- itor of accreditors following the FASB model would be a bit better than either, but is still “an unlikely model for precise emulation” since “FASB, to be successful, insists on one-size-fits-all standards, an anathema to higher education.”168
A national accreditor or a FASB for higher education would either continue to ignore the quality assurance role in order to focus on the improvement role, or (more likely) would be pressured by the fed- eral government into focusing more on it. Regardless, innovation and the health and efficiency of higher education would likely suffer. Therefore, we don’t recommend this as an alternative to accreditation.
TABLE 16 THE EFFECTS OF REPLACING ACCREDITATION WITH A CENTRALIZED ACCREDITOR
Don’t impose unnecessary costs:
Promote the Health and Efficiency of Higher Education:
Define (Appropriate) Measures of Quality: Inform the Public:
Note: (+) represents an improvement in performance in this category, (–) represents a deterioration in performance in this category.