By Richard Vedder
My friend Dick Bishirjian, president of Yorktown University, is annoyed, and rightly so, but a proposal apparently making its way through the New Jersey legislature. A bill in that state would consider degrees from colleges not accredited by a regional accreditor to be invalid (illegal was the term used in the email to me). In other words, if a primarily internet based school is accredited by a national accreditor recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, that is not good enough for the State of New Jersey (if this legislation becomes law).
This is still another of numerous attempts by some in the higher education establishment to restrict competition, and give cartel status to the regional accrediting agencies. As the email to me indicated, a similar effort was foiled in Texas last year, where an attempt was made to accept as accredited graduates only those attending SACS-accredited institutions.
It would be interesting to prosecute states who enact such legislation for violating the Constitutional rights of individuals (the Commerce Clause of the Constitution), not to mention the Sherman and Clayton Anti-Trust acts. I hate excessive litigation, I even dislike the anti-trust laws, but sometimes you have to use the weapons at your disposal.
Proposals like this are simply awful. The regional accrediting agencies are controlled, typically, by boards made up of college presidents and other senior folks at the schools being regulated. They have never, ever, closed down a major institution for academic mediocrity. They are terrible at quality control, but are excellent at squandering resources, at restricting competition, at enhancing tuition fees, and, in short, ripping off consumers. To give these agencies monopoly status would be horrible.
I am not against the concept of certifying the level of quality of institutions, no more than I am against Consumer Reports evaluating which manufacturers make the best cars. But the current system needs big change. Moving to transparent evidence of student outcomes would greatly alleviate the need for organizations like SACS, North Central, etc. If the Obama Administration truly cares about college students and wants to make college more affordable, it will crack down on these efforts to restrict competition.