Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Inmates Running the Asylum?

That's the title of the brand new CCAP report, released today, on the topic of higher education accreditation in America today. According to this report, authored by Andrew Gillen, Daniel Bennett and Richard Vedder, the current system is "broken" because it 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 sufficiently 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 philanthropists). Its relevance as a quality control and enhancement device is at best marginal.

Although accreditation may appear to be a well-designed system on paper, as lead author Andrew Gillen notes for MindingtheCampus, it "accomplishes almost none of what it is supposed to."

You can read the Chronicle's article on this report here or you can download the report in its entirety from our website.

1 comment:

Glen S. McGhee said...

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity is to be commended for bringing out such a timely and well researched topic paper on American accreditation.

I know of no other attempt to sketch out future alternatives for our present guild-dominated system of higher ed quality control. None.

The reason why no one is discussing what the future holds, I just mentioned: the Ivory Tower holds all the cards, and is severely limited cognitively by a kind of tunnel vision regarding the roots of its own legitimacy, or at least a major source for it (i.e., eligibility and access to Title IV federal subsidies now ranging over $100 Billion).

I look forward to carefully reading this report, and highly recommend Kevin Carey's eye-opening piece mentioned (http:/, and also want to draw attention to his more detailed report on the same theme (

Perhaps I can point out that
the July 1970 Puffer Report recommended that the regional associations be broken up to more manageable sizes -- and this was 40 years ago -- well before the explosive growth in American higher ed.

Still, the core problem is the innate conflict of interest between the fiduciary responsibility to the public, and the accreditors total ownership by its member institutions. Under these conditions, you end up with sad situations like those described so well by Carey, where QA enforcement is nearly impossible, and QC is an unapproachable ideal.

The biggest stumbling block, other than the accrediting guild itself, is the fact that Congressional intent behind the Program Integrity provisions of the 1992 amendments to the HEA was so easily subverted -- the dozen or so accrediting standards, which Congress thought established "minimum standards," were fought against by the institutions so strenuously (witness the demise of the SPREs in the same legislation), that US Dept of Ed Sec. Richard Riley resorted to simply reciting the statutory language in the proposed regulations, and this lapse has yet to be addressed. What we now have instead is a discussion dominated by one of those "minimum standards," student achievement and outcomes.

One could not imagine the outcry from the accreditors and CHEA if Congress took an active interest in what Sec. Riley called his "minimalist" approach to the standards of HEA Sec 496. Just witness the push-back against the modest proposals of the Spellings Commission.