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Part 4: Our Recommendations

his paper suggests that accreditation is a complex process, trying to serve often incompatible objectives in inefficient ways determined more by historical accident than rational decision mak- ing. The system needs to be changed. Below are a few general observations and recommendations. First, any system of accreditation or certification must focus on quality control and improving matches of consumers and producers—matching students to the appropriate institution given their tastes, talents, and financial condition. This means a complete public disclosure not only of accreditation reports, but also of information about student outcomes. It is not unreasonable to have the accrediting authority, whoever that may be, require colleges to provide certain standardized pieces of performance and financial data in a uniform fashion. T

Second, the current binary system where schools are either approved (accredited) or not-approved (not accredited) is unacceptable, and should be replaced by a system that provides vastly more indicators of quality in a far more nuanced fashion than the status quo. For example, schools or programs within institutions might receive an accreditation score between 1 and 100, with some pre-determined minimal acceptable level to be considered accredited, but where the numerical score provides additional informa- tion enabling consumers to compare institutions, see if they are marginally or solidly acceptable, etc.

Third, the existing accreditation system suffers from other major deficiencies that must be addressed in any reform. Most notably, accreditation today was largely created by institutions themselves to pro- mote institutional self-interest, not the public interest, and this is reflected in conflict of interests between the accreditors and those accredited. Discipline-based accrediting similarly often is viewed by organiza- tions representing various academic specializations as a means of enhancing resource provision for the discipline, rather than serving either institutional or broader public needs.

Fourth, we conclude that the current system is highly flawed and is better replaced than reformed. A replacement system would be far more outcomes-based than current accreditation. For example, a stan- dardized national examination could be administered by respected national testing organizations in indi- vidual disciplines to certify competency not only of individuals but of institutions (institutions whose value added to student performance could be denied minimal accreditation approval and, under current arrangements, access to federal funding). In some instances, the examination approach may not work, but alternative approaches using disciplinary-based professional groups are available.

Fifth, given the importance of diversity to the strength of American higher education, the role of a sin- gle regulatory authority, most notably the federal government, should be minimized.

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