WASHINGTON, DC—Higher education accrediting agencies have not succeeded in maintaining academic quality or constraining costs, according to a study released by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).
The study, Can College Accreditation Live Up to Its Promise?, was prepared by George Leef and Roxana Burris of ACTA’s staff. ACTA is a nonprofit higher education organization that supports academic freedom, excellence, and accountability.
The 55-page report suggests that Congress consider “decoupling” accreditation from federal student loan programs. Under current law, accreditation is required for colleges to participate in these programs. The report questions whether this requirement is justified and suggests that it may be counterproductive.
“The accreditation system has received very little scrutiny despite the fact that the accreditors have the power to decide whether a college is good enough to be allowed to receive federal student aid funds,” Leef said. “Congress thought it was utilizing a reliable system for separating academically sound institutions from those that would take the money but offer little educational value. The trouble is that students can now graduate from accredited schools with an education in name only.”
The report notes that the accreditation agencies focus their attention almost entirely on a college’s inputs and policies, not on the quality of the curriculum, instruction, and learning outcomes.
On October 1, the Subcommittee on Twenty-First Century Competitiveness of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce will hold a hearing on the subject of accreditation. Among the witnesses will be former U.S. Senator and President of the University of Northern Colorado, Hank Brown. Subcommittee member Representative Tom Petri of Wisconsin plans to introduce a bill that would decouple accreditation and federal student aid programs. “This is a subject that Congress has too long ignored,” Petri said. “I’m glad that ACTA has subjected accreditation to a careful review and raised important questions about our policy regarding it.”
Jim Miller, former Office of Management and Budget Director and a trustee of George Mason University until last June, said, “ACTA is to be congratulated for a report that asks the questions that we need to be asking about accreditation and the quality of our institutions of higher education.”