Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fixing Accreditation

By Richard Vedder

In talking the other day to a great educational entrepreneur, Randy Best, he said that the two magic words in reducing costs in higher education are "competition" and "transparency." I cannot disagree. He went on to say the major impediment to competition is accreditation. His efforts at inexpensive on-line education are impeded by geographic limitations imposed by accreditors that strike me as ridiculous, and by the amount of time and money it takes to meet the whims of the Tsars that control the gateways to being in the industry. Great economies of scale are being thwarted by mindless regulation.

Competition, accreditation and transparency are all interrelated. If all universities do what Randy is doing, namely having an external examiner evaluate each student to see if credit is justified, and if all the information on passage rates, attrition rates, tuition rates, etc., were public knowledge easily available on the Internet, why would we need accreditation at all? The Department of Education could simply say that it refuses to provide assistance to students attending schools performing very badly by these highly transparent criteria, and let it go at that.
The bar associations "accredit" new lawyers, and the accountants examine potential new CPAs. Underwriters Laboratories "accredits" electrical gadgets. Why can we not move to an examination form of "accreditation", supplemented by such useful information as student vocational success in the first five years after graduation, the percent that drop out of school, campus crime rates, tuition levels, and the like? Why can we not have a Consumer Reports annual analysis of colleges and universities that provides the quality control that accreditation is supposed to perform, meanwhile increasing competition between institutions?

The only reason it does not happen is that the higher education community does not want it to happen. This is where reformers should take to the barricades and start the revolution so sorely needed in American higher education.

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