Higher Education Accreditation Is Broken – It’s Time to Fix It
Accreditation was designed to protect students by safeguarding higher education standards, but it’s no longer fit for purpose.
Today, the United States is home to low-quality for-profit colleges willing relieve students of their money in exchange for an education that costs as much, if not more, than a non-profit school. The education they provide is in some cases also inferior to other schools in part because of low academic standards but also because of poor management.
Accreditation used to work – and it can again. But it must be fixed.
What Is Accreditation?
Accreditation is given out by agencies in the federal government. These agencies began life within colleges as a way for institutions to establish wider standards. These agencies also opened communication between institutions to make it easy for students to transfer or graduate.
After accreditation agencies no longer suited their purpose within the community of schools, the federal government took them over to continue to standardize education but also to protect the government’s own investment in higher education, which began in earnest in the 1950s.
Today, accrediting agencies are responsible for two things:
- Making sure students get a quality education
- Making sure the quality of the college’s management is sufficient (fraud prevention, etc.)
Accreditation Agencies Aren’t Doing Their Job
Yet, accreditation agencies are not doing their job in part. This is in large part because the government doesn’t supply the money needed to do it.
Even though the accrediting agencies are supposed to be working for the federal government, they still need money from colleges.
The system as it stands today works in a way where accrediting agencies are responsible to the government but receive funding from colleges in the form of fees that aren’t tied to colleges’ performance.
With a small budget, lack of staff, and the ability for one lawsuit to wipe out a third of the money available for oversight, accreditation is no longer up to the task of providing both quality standards of education and management.
The result has been rampant and glaring cases of fraud and the rise of diploma mills. The case of Corinthian Colleges, which was found to harbor massive academic and financial fraud, is only one example of these failures.
We Must Fix Accreditation to Improve Education and Prevent Fraud
Fixing accreditation won’t be easy. According to Antoinette Flores, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, accreditors will need to set minimum fees to ensure it is well funded, increase fees for colleges for poor performers to pay for the additional oversight required, and need additional legal protection from lawsuits.
Indeed, accreditation is broken, but just as before, it can evolve to meet the changing needs of students and schools.