Press Releases | Trusteeship

Accreditation Needs an Overhaul, ACTA Says in Change Magazine

September 18, 2008

WASHINGTON, DC—In a new article for Change magazine, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni calls on trustees to demand an end to federal accreditation because it interferes with institutional autonomy and has overstepped its traditional bounds.

“It was not until the 1940’s that accreditation took on the role it has today—namely to serve as the gatekeeper for federal dollars,” ACTA president Anne D. Neal writes in the article. “When it passed the GI Bill, Congress linked the accreditation process with the distribution of federal funds.”

Today, federal financial aid exceeds $78 billion a year. Without this money, many students would not be able to attend college, and an unaccredited school would find it quite difficult to compete with its accredited peers to attract students.

Regional accrediting organizations arose in the late 19th century as a voluntary system of quality assurance to differentiate colleges from high schools. The Higher Education Act calls for accreditors to be “reliable guarantors of educational quality.” However, by linking accreditation to financial aid, ACTA argues, Congress endowed accreditors with immense and unintended power.

“Far from preventing harmful intrusion into higher education, the system has empowered the accrediting cartels to impose their own standards and agendas on schools they are meant to be helping,” the article goes on to say. “Political correctness, diffuse curricula, rising prices, the homogenization of higher education—all these are facilitated by the accreditors’ regime.”

The article cites several examples of accreditors using their positions of authority to meddle in the affairs of their member institutions. This, ACTA says, has served not to ensure academic quality—but rather to undermine it.

To remedy the problem, the article calls for ending the link between accreditation and financial aid and opening up the accreditation process to more competition. It also calls on trustees to assert their rights as fiduciaries of their universities more forcefully.

“Policy makers and accreditors need to hear from [trustees]—loudly and often,” the article concludes, “insisting on an end to federal accreditation and demanding the institutional independence that has for so long made American higher education the envy of the world.”

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, national organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability. Its network includes alumni and trustees from more than 600 colleges and universities across the country. Since its founding in 1995, ACTA has counseled boards and educated the public about such issues as historical literacy, core curricula, the free exchange of ideas, accreditation, and good governance in higher education.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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