Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Land Grabs and Accreditation

by Andrew Gillen

I read in the WSJ today that Columbia is planning an expansion. Good for them. However, if this piece is correct, they are going about it in a most disagreeable way, getting the state of New York to use eminent domain to take the land and turn it over to them.

Didn't anyone tell them that now is a bad time to be in real estate? Although, perhaps that are just getting a jump on the next bubble. If so, then they deserve to make this list next time, which by the way, is one of the funniest things I've read in a long time (HT to Paul Kedrosky's Infectious Greed). While grading those that helped create the real estate bubble, Nick Gogerty has this to say about the rating Agencies:
Ratings Agencies. Moody’s, S&P and to a lesser degree Fitch did pretty well, I mean these guys have a government monopoly as NRSROs from the SEC on what is and is not qualified as investment grade. You guys have a government monopoly on truth as it relates to value, how cool is that? ... The ratings agencies have admitted that their models may have been broken. What!?!, You guys were running this stuff through a model? That is crazy, it just slows up the whole process. You were paid to be a “AAA” rubber stamp and here you go and delay the game and muck up the works using a broken model. We could have gotten a heck of a lot more mortgage backed paper out the door and offshore, if you guys hadn’t been busy mathturbating with the models. Next time keep it simple, take the money, rubber stamp the paper, keep your mouth shut and move on. It will be like the good old days with municipal bonds.

Is there another group that has "a government monopoly on truth" as it relates to educational value in higher ed? I would say that the accreditation system sounds an awful lot like the rating agency system, with both having private groups sanctioned with government monopolies to certify things in their area. Some of the alternatives to this type of system aren't too attractive, (eg something like the FDA) so it is possible that the system we currently have is the least bad option; however, given the similarities, and due to recent experience with rating agencies, our confidence in the accreditation system should be lower today than it was in 2005.

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