Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Accreditation War of 2007: The Anne Neal Appointment

By Richard Vedder

I am, by and large, on the side of Margaret Spellings and the Department of Education in the great war currently being fought in Washington over accreditation. The current system stinks, and accreditation is not being used to prod schools to demonstrate students are learning something. I do not like a lot of federal intrusion into the affairs of universities, and, indeed, want the feds to get out of the student loan business completely. But pressuring the accreditors to force the colleges to measure and report "value added" during the college experience is a good idea.

The appointment of Anne Neal to NACIQI (the "National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity) is the latest sign the Administration means business in trying to implement the Spellings Commission recommendations. Anne is a dear friend and ally, one that CCAP often works with. Ironically, I was the one who talked Charles Miller into letting her testify before the Commission. Anne is a believer in accountability, in measuring progress, and in having students be familiar with a series of general education courses including basics like American history. As head of ACTA --the Association of College Trustees and Alumni -- Anne has been indefatigable in her defense of teaching the corpus of knowledge that binds us together as a people, as well as urging trustees and alumni to be more assertive in university affairs. She also shares my opposition to grade inflation, and might push for accrediting agencies to demand grade distribution data from colleges, and to give lower marks to schools that show no interest in differentiating materially between the good and the bad, the excellent and the fair. Her appointment will drive the Higher Ed establishment crazy -- which is precisely the reason she belongs on NACIQI. The establishment has viewed accreditation as a minor annoyance, not an important instrument in assuring some quality is maintained.

Anne is bright (Harvard Law grad), opinionated, politically savvy (her husband is a congressman) and principled. All good qualifications for being on NACIQI. I see the hand of Vickie Schray, Charles Miller and Margaret Spellings in this appointment, and three cheers to all of them. It shows that they can appoint someone good outside the state of Texas.

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