Our current system of higher education accreditation is broken. The system is mired in secrecy, delivers imprecise and largely unhelpful information, is clouded by possible currents of self-interest, restricts entrepreneurial initiative, is often costly to administer when all costs are considered, and is not suffi- ciently outcomes based. It does a poor job of conveying important information to those funding it, including the customers themselves (students) as well as major donors (governments, private philanthro- pists). Its relevance as a quality control and enhancement device is at best marginal.
The complete elimination of accreditation is probably not possible or even desirable. For example, someone has to prevent government monies from funding completely fraudulent diploma mills. But this study outlines a series of different approaches to introducing a new system. One approach is clearly rejected: consolidating all accreditation into one government agency. This strikes us as a dangerous and unwise reform, excessively concentrating power and potentially endangering some of the historical strengths that accompany a decentralized higher education system. However, even without radical restructuring of the accrediting agencies themselves, new approaches to the accreditation process could give consumers more practical information on the strengths and weaknesses of institutions (not merely
a binary “acceptable” or “non-acceptable” assessment), utilize new methods of ascertaining academic per- formance (e.g., national standardized tests), and be ultimately governed by persons far removed from those being accredited. In a world with better information (especially on learning outcomes) and trans-
parency, accreditation could become more of a powerful and useful information device and less of an ineffective prescriptive, regulatory device. Market forces could take over some of the disciplining of poor or mediocre institutions in a more effective fashion than the current prescriptive approach suggests. A move in this direction is badly needed and grossly overdue.