The Forum | Trusteeship

The Wall Street Journal on Accreditation Reform

January 15, 2013 by Hank Brown

Last week you read about the “crisis of accreditation” in higher ed, which works, in short, like this:

  • The federal government requires that federal financial-aid dollars go only to schools that demonstrate basic levels of educational quality.
  • The feds empower accrediting agencies to determine educational quality: if a school loses its accreditation, it cannot receive Pell grants, Stafford loans, or other forms of federal financial aid.
  • Losing access to that money is an instant death sentence for most schools.
  • Accreditors use their power to bully schools in areas that have nothing to do with basic standards of educational quality.
  • While they are bossing around trustees, accreditors let their actual mission—ensuring basic quality—fall by the wayside. Learning outcomes among college graduates have fallen precipitously in recent decades.

Now Hank Brown, former university president and U.S. Senator from Colorado, has written in the Wall Street Journal about the damage that out-of-control accreditors do to universities.  A taste:

“For decades, these accreditors have effectively guarded the status quo, focusing on process and resources rather than on educational excellence. The law school accreditor, the American Bar Association, for example, demands a certain percentage of tenured professors at each school and limits the amount of online learning that can be offered.”

The accreditation system is a “hidden drain” on higher education: it degrades educational quality, but it is invisible to most of the public. ACTA has spent years working to bring this issue to light—and with the Journal, we hope that we are turning a corner, and the public will start to demand answers from the system.


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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