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Accreditation Under Fire

October 28, 2016

In the United States, accreditation for colleges and universities is not run by the government, but by private agencies. The various accrediting agencies are approved by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which in turn is authorized but not governed by the Department of Education. The problem is that the government pours something like 180 billion dollars into educational institutions every year. Many people would like the government to have closer oversight of the accreditation process.

The New York Times recently ran an editorial calling for this kind of governmental oversight. The editorial states, “Incredibly, [the government] cannot dictate the standards or benchmarks by which these accrediting organizations judge whether a school is financially or academically sound.” The editorial continues,

The system is clearly in need of repair. A bill pending in the Senate would be a start. It proposes several changes in the law, most important a provision that would require the Education Department to write standards dealing with graduation rates, job placement rates, loan repayment rates and other criteria that accrediting organizations would have to apply when evaluating colleges.

In other words, since the government is now successfully running airport security and the health care system, the Times would like to see that same efficiency and expertise brought to bear on higher education. Not surprisingly, CHEA sees the matter differently. Judith Eaton, president of CHEA, responded to the Times editorial in a letter:

Accreditation has been integral to the creation of a higher education enterprise that is, worldwide, unparalleled in its success in terms of access and quality. What would be incredible — and a colossal mistake — is to wrest authority for academic judgment from accreditation and the academic community and place it in the hands of government officials.

In the United States, expenditures on education account for about 5.5 percent of the gross domestic product. That is a huge part of the economy. Does anybody really think we’ll be better off if the government takes this over, too?

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