WASC Was Right to Deny Ashford Accreditation

Andrew, I understand that you were critiquing the accreditation system in general. I agree that it’s not perfect and could focus more directly on what students actually learn rather than on inputs and processes. I do think, though, that when a university doesn’t even have an adequate system in place for monitoring and assessing student learning on its own–and Ashford doesn’t, according to the WASC–or when its courses seem none too rigorous, there’s a strong chance students aren’t learning much.

You asserted in your original article that “[f]iguring out how to educate more students with less money is perhaps the most important national goal right now.” Ashford’s online operation doesn’t even come close to realizing that goal. Yes, it has plenty of students–90,000 of them–but it’s no bargain to attend. According to Ashford’s own website, annual online tuition is in the $12,000-$13,000 range. That’s cheaper than a private brick-and-mortar college, but it’s more than twice the cost of the all-online (and fully accredited) Western Governors University, which charges only $5,780 per year in tuition. Therefore, Ashford is a poor poster child for the argument that the accreditation system is failing college students.

There are genuine cases in which accreditation hurdles do operate as unfair barriers to entry. Last year’s decision by the American Bar Association not to accredit Lincoln Memorial University’s law school because its library relies on electronic access to many books to cut costs is such a case. But there’s no evidence that the WASC, whose Ashford commission included several online educators, including the past president of the for-profit Capella University, is using the accreditation system either to stifle innovation or maintain an exclusive club.

Charlotte Allen

Charlotte Allen blogs for the Los Angeles Times and writes frequently about cultural trends for the Weekly Standard.

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