Tag Archives: accreditation

Why Get-Tough Accreditors Make Classes More Fun and Less Demanding

America’s higher education system works like this. The government dangles lots of easy-to-get money for college in front of every high-school graduate, nearly all of whom have heard repeatedly that a college degree is essential for a decent life. Without “higher education,” their lives will be nothing but low-paid drudgery.

Salvation lies in enrolling in college, but unless the school is accredited, they won’t be to use any of that federal grant and loan money to pay for it. So great numbers of students get their Pell grants, federal loans, and then find a college that promises them a bright future.

Related: Accreditors—Hip-Deep in Politics  

The role the accreditors are supposed to play is to guarantee that colleges are educationally sound. Politicians don’t want federal money wasted on degree mills or other dubious schools. Accreditation was thought to be a good defense against that.

Back in the 1960s, when the Great Leap Forward into higher education began, the system seemed reasonable. Most of the students who went to college were pretty well prepared and the admission and academic standards at most schools were at least moderately demanding. Expanding “access” to higher education appeared to have only an upside.

The trouble is that Uncle Sam’s increasing “generosity” towards college proved to be very corrosive of those standards over time.

College administrators quickly developed a taste for the additional revenue they could obtain by enrolling more students. To do that, many lowered admission standards and the academic quality of the college-going population began to decline. (That decline was worsened by the fact that academic rigor at many of our high schools was simultaneously falling, as “progressive” educational theories spread.) But to keep the increasingly large number of weak and disengaged students they were luring into their schools happy, it was necessary to water down the curriculum and lower academic expectations.

After decades, those trends have led us to our present, dismal situation – many students who shouldn’t have entered college in the first place are racking up debts for college while learning little and often failing to graduate.

Related: Why Accreditation Is a Waste of Time

Instead of acknowledging that college subsidies have produced some bad consequences, President Obama and his (now departing) education secretary Arne Duncan are now pinning the blame on the accreditors for not solving the problems caused by easy money and low standards.

In a November 6, 2015 statement, Secretary Duncan said, “Accrediting organizations are watchdogs that don’t bite.” He announced that the department would request from Congress new power to set standards for the way accreditation agencies measure the schools they evaluate. The idea behind this is that if accreditors force their schools to improve on such metrics as graduation rates, they we will solve or at least ameliorate the problem of “failing schools.”

This is a classic example of rearranging the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic – a waste of effort that fails to address the underlying problem. That problem is simple: Colleges can’t educate students who really don’t have much ability or desire to learn.

There are many colleges, both for-profit and non-profit with very low graduation rates. Some are in single-digits. Many of the students who enroll find that college work, even with today’s prevailing low standards and watered down curriculum, just isn’t what they want or need and drop out. School administrators would like to have them remain enrolled and graduate, since that means both more money and a boost in the various ranking systems. They have “retention” programs, which are supposed to stop the dropout hemorrhaging, but despite all their efforts, reality asserts itself. Many students are “mismatched” at any college.

What will happen if the Department of Education could compel accreditation agencies to “get tough” with these “failing schools”?

We will see the kind of system gaming that we have seen in K-12 when schools get the diktat to improve or else. Colleges and the accreditors will fudge or cheat so they will look good enough under the metrics.

Related: What’s Wrong  with Accreditation—a Textbook Case

If you doubt that, consider how college professors do the same thing when they’re under pressure to “improve.” Since job retention often depends on meeting some benchmark on their student evaluations, they concentrate on that. A perfect illustration of that is found in Peter Sacks’ book Generation X Goes to College; to keep his job, he needed better evaluations and thus engaged in his “sandbox experiment,” of making his class more fun and less demanding. (It worked.)

Similarly, if an accreditor insists on better outcomes, the easiest way for a school to produce them is to further reduce its academic standards and do still more hand-holding so as to encourage students who’d otherwise have dropped out into remaining on campus. Even if the great majority of your students are pitiably weak, you can probably engineer a marginal increase in your graduation rate by a “sandbox experiment” at the whole institution.

To the educrats, any increase in graduation rates will look like progress because they are obsessed with our “educational attainment” level. But the sad truth is that America is already saturated with people with college credentials doing jobs that only call for high school skills or less. (For evidence on that, see this report by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.) More people will have spent time and money on college credits of scant intrinsic worth. That’s not progress.

Now, imagine that to save their own skins, accreditors marginally increase the number of schools they de-accredit, throwing to the wolves some of the schools that cater to the weakest students and have the most intractably low outcomes. Those institutions will close, causing the educrats to proclaim that they’re solving the problem. But the students who would have gone to them will just take their federal money to another marginal school, thereby making it harder for it to meet the accrediting standards. Nothing really changes.

Accreditation changes are the wrong medicine for what ails higher education in the U.S. We can only hope that Congress will ignore the Education Department’s plea for more power over the system. True, accreditation does a lousy job of ensuring academic quality, but low quality and poor outcomes are inevitable given Washington’s “college for all” penchant.

The Unstoppable MOOCs


Richard Vedder

Although difficult to measure, it is unlikely that higher
education has had any productivity advance in the 50 years since I finished
college. Economists like Princeton’s William Baumol have argued that rising
college costs are inevitable, given inherent limitations on reducing the cost
of disseminating knowledge -only so many people can fit into a room to hear a

Yet on-line education, including massive open on-line
courses (MOOCs), are changing that. Prestigious universities like Harvard,
M.I.T., and Stanford are working with various providers to offer courses taught
by well known and often very effective professors. Coursera, Udacity, edX and
others are providing increasing numbers of courses where students can learn.
They join other low-cost options such as provided by StraighterLine and the
extensive, high quality free offerings of the Saylor Foundation, a pioneer in
the free open source movement. Khan Academy also offers materials at all levels
of learning, and some of those materials are used by college providers.

Continue reading The Unstoppable MOOCs

We Must Embrace Higher Ed Reform

History Channel’s
popular series “The Men Who Built America”
portrays an incredibly wealthy – yet worried – John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller,
who earned much of his vast fortune by producing and refining kerosene, was
facing competition not from rival magnates – the Carnegies or Vanderbilts – but
from the likes of Thomas Edison and Nikolas Tesla, who sought to harness electric
light to affordably power the homes of millions of Americans. 

Rockefeller quickly realized he had to find another
market for his kerosene, or risk losing his wealth, standing, and influence. Rather
than trying to stop it, Rockefeller had the entrepreneurial skill to recognize
that his industry had to change when confronted with a fundamentally new and
transformative form of competition.  It’s evident that many of today’s
colleges are trying to block inevitable change, through barriers such as accreditation,
while others realize they have to redefine their industry.

America’s colleges and universities stand on the same precipice.
A disruption of the higher education market through online learning and more
specifically, through Massively Open Online Courses or MOOCs, is underway,
precipitated by untenable college costs. And unless Traditional U rethinks its business model, and for that matter, its
raison d’être, it will face an uphill
battle to stay competitive in a rapidly changing higher ed market. As Stuart
Butler and I write in a recent paper we published:

“Traditional higher
education, however, may no longer be able to ignore the revolution at its
doorstep. Dramatic changes are on the horizon as entrepreneurial educators
experiment with radically different business models and approaches to

Students, parents, and taxpayers will be the
beneficiaries of those dramatic changes. Innovative start-ups such as Coursera, edX, and Straighterline offer courses for a fraction of what they cost at
traditional universities, or, offer courses that are altogether free. Given
this new environment of open access to high quality content, one can imagine a
day when students pursue a menu approach to higher education, piecing together
their degree from a variety of sources instead of spending four years and
thousands of dollars obtaining a bachelor’s degree at a single institution.

Such a menu approach would allow students to home in on
the courses they need to be marketable and to succeed in the workplace. Their
course selection could be guided by independent third parties- businesses or
non-profits for example – who lend their “seal of approval” to a given course.
Such an approach could radically reduce costs, improve access, and provide
valuable information to employers.

But there is a significant barrier to the much-needed
transformation of higher education: accreditation. Accreditation has become a
poor gauge of college quality. Schools rarely lose accreditation once it is
granted, despite widespread recognition that the quality of higher education
has been on the decline for decades.

At the same time, colleges and universities must toil
through the bureaucratic and time-consuming accreditation process in order for
students to be eligible for federal loans. Such a system hinders innovation,
creates an inflexible college experience for students, and results in accredited
courses of questionable academic value.

The first step toward reforming higher education is
reconfiguring accreditation and unleashing a new higher education business
model. To do that, federal policymakers should end government sanctioning of
accrediting agencies, making accreditation voluntary; reputations dependant on
market forces, not government approval. At the same time, federal financing
should be unbundled from accreditation.

Traditional universities face a dilemma: Americans are
coming to the realization that too often a bachelor’s degree just isn’t worth
the average $25,000 in student loan debt it costs. Employers realize that that
pricey piece of paper is a poor indication of the skills and knowledge of a
prospective employee.

Rockefeller ultimately lost the battle to light America’s
homes, but he remained a powerful player in American industry. He shifted his
focus to oil, using what was once a byproduct – gasoline – to fuel the
“horseless carriages” mass produced by Henry Ford. Colleges need to likewise
shift their focus and recognize that in a time when the acquisition of basic
knowledge is cheaper than ever, degrees cannot remain historically expensive.

By embracing the budding online revolution, they can do
just that. Federal policymakers can aid that transformation by removing
barriers such as the current government-driven accreditation system, and
allowing the market to determine quality.


M. Burke is the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation

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.

Continue reading WASC Was Right to Deny Ashford Accreditation

A Short Reply to Charlotte

Charlotte Allen‘s response to my recent piece on the denial of accreditation for Ashford contains some good material, but some misunderstanding. My piece is not about whether the Ashford decision itself was flawed–I never stated that WASC was wrong to deny Ashford accreditation and flatly stated: “It is certainly possible that Ashford doesn’t deserve accreditation…”

Rather, my piece was about whether accreditation is a credible system for making such determinations (which I argue it is not) and only talk about the Ashford decision because “it is pretty unusual and gives us a rare glimpse into accreditation.”

Continue reading A Short Reply to Charlotte

You’re Wrong About Ashford, Andrew

agree with Andrew Gillen that a large segment of entrenched academia
reflexively opposes for-profit colleges and online education. These people
don’t even like the MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) started by MIT and
Harvard! That said, I don’t see any evidence that the WASC acted unfairly when
it refused accreditation to Ashford University’s massive, 90,000-student online

Continue reading You’re Wrong About Ashford, Andrew

What’s Wrong with Accreditation–A Textbook Case


The world of higher education is abuzz with the news that a
for-profit university, Ashford University, whose Iowa campus holds accreditation from the
North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, has been denied
accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) for its
online headquarters. Denial of accreditation for schools that already have it
is pretty unusual and gives us a rare glimpse into accreditation and a detailed
example of what’s wrong with the existing system.

Continue reading What’s Wrong with Accreditation–A Textbook Case

What Do the Law Schools Think They’re Doing?

from OpenMarket.org

The New York Times featured an excellent news story
Sunday by David Segal
on the costly white elephant that is legal education
in America. He describes how law school is expensive because of
government-enforced accreditation standards that prevent law schools from
containing costs even if they wanted to (and in truth, most law schools are all
too happy to jack up their costs and pass them on to law students and consumers
of legal services): “the lack of affordable law school options, scholars say,
helps explain why so many Americans don’t hire lawyers” when they genuinely
need legal assistance or advice. One reason for that is that lawyers who incur
a fortune in student loans need to bring (or defend) big-ticket lawsuits — even
socially destructive lawsuits — to pay off their loans, instead of providing
badly needed legal advice and assistance to people of modest means, who can pay
less, even though handling their unmet legal needs would be much more
meaningful work for conscientious lawyers. (Certain types
of lawsuits are favored
by one-way
statutes that encourage trial lawyers to bring those particular
types of lawsuits
, even when the entity being sued is probably innocent.)

Continue reading What Do the Law Schools Think They’re Doing?

More Ed School Follies

A few years ago, under intense pressure from Congress, NCATE (the national organization that accredits Education programs) abandoned its requirement that, in order to obtain accreditation, Education schools needed to measure the “disposition” of each and every prospective public school teacher to promote social justice. (The mandate didn’t apply to schools that don’t list promotion as social justice as a goal, but virtually all Education programs do so.) The work of FIRE, ACTA, and NAS helped expose how this requirement amounted to little more than a license for Education professors to terminate students with whom they disagreed politically–on matters ranging from affirmative action to the propriety of using class time to show anti-Bush films just before the 2004 Election Day.

The victory over NCATE, however, shouldn’t obscure a related problem: that the Education professors that the organization confidently–and correctly–would implement their “social justice” mandate remain in place. Last week, the NAS blog ran a column that should remind everyone of the continuing problem.

A teacher–whose name was concealed due to fear of career retaliation–wrote of an experience as an M.A. student in Ed school, and in particular his/her challenging of professors’ views regarding the “achievement gap”–the tendency of African-Americans, and in some cases Hispanics, to score lower on standardized tests. As the anonymous teacher explained, the overwhelmingly dominant interpretation of this phenomenon in Ed schools is “the progressive view, . . . which holds that social injustice, institutionalized racism, white prejudice, and other societal ills cause the achievement gap.” Progressive educators oppose tracking, or virtually anything else that would aid gifted and talented students; and, the NAS poster correctly noted, “a large part of the progressive view involves changing the students’ values with sympathetic teachers who understand how to develop ‘accessible’ curriculum for students who aren’t performing at grade level.” Conservatives, on the other end, tend to place more of the blame for poor performance on the teachers and parents of the poorly-performing students.

(“Progressive” and “conservative” don’t correspond to mainstream political ideology–both the Bush and Obama administrations could be characterized as educational “conservatives.”)

The NAS teacher correctly came to realize that “Ed schools see the public rejection of affirmative action, its embrace of welfare reform and crackdowns on illegal immigrants, and all the other rollbacks of the liberal agenda as profoundly wrong and evil acts. They see education as a means of rectifying the injustices committed by an ignorant society, with themselves as one of the last bastions of protection for under-represented minorities.”

After the teacher made clear a disagreement with the prevailing philosophy on the achievement gap, his/her Ed professor made clear an intent to see the student removed from the program, allegedly on trumped-up charges. The student fought back, and obtained the M.Ed. degree.

The story serves as yet another reminder that the one-sided nature of the nation’s Education faculty all but ensures that the best for which society can hope of prospective public school teachers is that these teachers will not be in any way influenced by their Education professors. And the tale serves as yet another reminder of how those interested in upholding academic freedom need to be especially vigilant of protecting students’ rights in Education programs.

Why Are There So Many Law Schools?

During my service as a member of the accreditation committee of the American Bar Association, the ABA added a 200th school to their roster of accredited law schools. This growth could be seen as a cause for celebration– the roster of new schools included many with missions that would clearly benefit society. Public service law schools, schools specializing in clinical legal education and schools with a mission to serve underrepresented constituencies, for example, enlarge and enhance the quality and availability of legal services.
Also among these 200 schools — particularly those of more recently vintage — were a number operated to return a profit for investors. The rise of the for-profit law school model posed a number of problems, but they were set aside by an ABA finding that these schools were to be judged according to the same standards applicable to independent, not-for-profit schools, and to the traditional university-affiliated schools. This approach was grounded in anti-trust interpretations that required basically the same standards for all schools so that the ABA would not bar entry to the market for competing law schools.

Continue reading Why Are There So Many Law Schools?

Accreditation: Are the Inmates Running the Asylum?

On paper, accreditation is an amazing system. Among other things, it simultaneously advises colleges on how to improve, enforces a minimum level of quality, provides needed information to policy makers, and protects colleges from government intrusion. It does all this with only a few hundred employees, and a few thousand volunteers. Indeed if accreditation actually accomplished all it claims to, it would be one of the best systems ever devised.

The only problem is that accreditation accomplishes almost none of what it is supposed to. The advice given to colleges is often inappropriate; accreditors refuse to define quality, let alone enforce a minimum level of it; the entire process is shrouded in secrecy, providing almost no information to outsiders; and while still relatively successful in shielding colleges from government intrusion, accreditors have too often used their quasi-governmental power to behave in just as dictatorial a manner. Accreditation needs to be reformed.

Read CCAP’s full report, prepared by Daniel Bennett, Richard Vedder and myself, for a detailed analysis of these problems and our proposed solutions, which would move us toward an outcomes-based quality control certification system.

A University With No Students?

A story in the March/April issue of the Washington Monthly about the demise last year, after its accreditation was pulled, of the financially and academically troubled Southeastern University in Washington, D.C., hit close to home. My home, actually, because I live just four blocks away from Southeastern’s decrepit single-building campus in Washington’s sleepy Southwest quadrant adjacent to the Potomac waterfront. A university calling itself “Southeastern” that’s really in Southwest Washington? That’s part’s of the mystery of Southeastern, founded in 1879 by the YMCA as a night school for working adults but somehow self-transformed into a “university” worthy of membership in the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, the same organization whose Commission on Higher Education accredits Princeton and Johns Hopkins. Middle States had granted accreditation to Southeastern in 1977, and the university hung on for 32 years, until Middle States pulled the plug in March 2009, effectively killing the school.

But here is the most mysterious thing about Southeastern, as far as I’m concerned: During the seven years that I’d lived in Southwest Washington before the university shut its doors after a final summer session in 2009, I never saw a single student—or a single human being of any kind—enter or exit its campus. This was strange, because I walked by that campus several times a week at different hours of the day, on my way to my bank’s ATM machine or to the post office or a nearby Starbucks. Southeastern’s haphazardly landscaped Brutalist-period headquarters (nearly all of Southwest was torn down and then rebuilt in a disastrous 1950s experiment with urban renewal) that purported to house a bustling academic community was always as eerie as a ghost town, the little concrete plaza in front of its plate-glass doors empty, its none-too-clean windows blanks.

I knew that Southeastern remained in business mostly because it advertised profligately on Metro subway trains and in Metro stations: large posters featuring photos of happy cap-and-gown-wearing students plus assurances that you could go to Southeastern practically for free (at least until those loan repayments kicked in), thanks to the generous federal aid that accreditation from Middle States assured.

Continue reading A University With No Students?

Are Ed Schools Failing?

The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) seems finally to have perceived what was in plain view to many people: that most of America’s ed schools are mediocre at best, offering curricula that mix lightweight courses, ivory-tower ideology, and minimal clinical exposure of student teachers to real-life classrooms.

NCATE has revised upwards the standards that the 632 college and graduate-level education programs it accredits—a little more than half of the nation’s 1,200-odd teacher-training courses of study– must meet in order to maintain their accreditations. Currently only a few of those schools meet NCATE’s highest levels of achievement, and many rate as merely “acceptable”—the lowest level an ed school can meet and still qualify for accreditation. Now, NCATE says, institutions must not be acceptable but “demonstrate continuous improvement toward excellence.”

Ed school critics have complained for years that the curricula at many education programs skimp on content knowledge (many history teachers don’t know much about history, and many math teachers can barely add or subtract, let alone help youngsters learn those operations). The programs also waste credit hours and ed students’ time on trendy theories (Marxism, feminism, and the “pedagogy of the oppressed,” just to name a few) and teaching techniques that are light on proven usefulness but heavy on academic fashionableness, whether it’s having high-schoolers make a poster in English class instead of writing an essay, so as to cater to “multiple intelligences,” or having middle-schoolers who misbehave participate in a “talking circle” instead of having to leave the classroom, all in the name of “restorative justice,” one of the latest trends in school discipline.

Continue reading Are Ed Schools Failing?

Are Accreditors Running The Colleges?

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) is at it again. In the latest set of rulings to come from this regional accreditor’s Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, fifteen institutions find themselves in various states of probation or warning or show cause. No school is shut down; the federal dollars keep flowing. And the public is kept mostly in the dark about the accreditor’s actions. But what is clear is WASC’s unrelenting interference in the governance of these state-supported institutions.
Under current law, Congress has linked accreditation and federal student aid to prevent students from squandering money on diploma mills. Recognized accreditors are authorized, by law, to serve as a “reliable authority” on the “quality of education or training offered.” But the reliance is misplaced. As it turns out, the interests of the accreditors and the federal government are not the same.

At Ohlone College, for example, academic quality is praised. Education is apparently fine. But no matter. The school is placed on warning because the accreditor doesnt like the way the board is functioning and planning.

Continue reading Are Accreditors Running The Colleges?

The Future Of Accreditation?

Many in the One Dupont Circle crowd talk a good game about the “Federal Ministry of Education” and the threat of nationalized standards. (See “The Future of Accreditation” in Inside Higher Ed by Judith Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation – a meditation on what accreditation will look like in 2014.) But the reality is that federal accreditation has already homogenized higher education, imposing inputs and demands that undermine institutional autonomy while also making it supremely hard for competitors to enter the field.

If higher ed is truly troubled by the specter of big government, then why not support the one accreditation reform proposal that will really get government out of higher ed? This proposal – which ACTA has endorsed for over a decade – involves the simple but definitive move of ending accreditation’s role as a gatekeeper for federal funds. Divorcing accreditation from eligibility for federal funding would get government out of higher ed in necessary ways – while still leaving the door wide open for other forms of public accountability such as financial review. Within such a framework, there is nothing to prevent institutions from voluntarily hiring accreditors if they find them valuable – and firing them if they don’t.

The fact that CHEA and others have failed to support this approach is not surprising. Indeed, the talk about peer review, autonomy, and quality standards is, as Eaton admits, all a smokescreen for higher ed’s real belief that “self-regulation is government regulation that [we] like.” What this means, as Kevin Carey has so accurately explained, is “While the federal government spends tens of billions of dollars a year supporting higher education, directly and indirectly… it shall be legally required to take higher education’s word for it that all that money is being spent well on behalf of students, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.”

What should the future bring? By the year 2014, let us hope that legislators have listened to parents and taxpayers, rather than One Dupont Circle, and that they have responded to what they have heard by ending mandatory federal accreditation.

Ed School Politics – Still A Problem

Beware the words “social justice” and “dispositions” when used by schools of education and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). These apparently harmless terms lay the groundwork for politicizing the training of teachers and giving the ed schools an excuse to eliminate conservatives from their programs. The news this week is that NCATE is backing down a bit from its use of “dispositions” and “social justice” while denying the political use of these words and calling its new policy a “clarification.”

“Dispositions” refers to the correct mindset that would-be teachers must have. “Social justice” is the most controversial of the dispositions sought. In its benign sense, “social justice” means a sense of fairness, honesty and a belief that all children can learn. In its politicized sense, it can refer to endorsement of affirmative action and a formal (often written) endorsement of policies favored by the political and cultural left.

“NCATE never required a ‘social justice’ disposition”, NCATE said on its web site. True, but the statement is a slippery one. In fact, the group had ruled that education departments could “include some measure of a candidate’s commitment to social justice” – in effect ruling that public school teachers could be evaluated on their perceptions of what social justice requires. So the ed schools, basically a liberal monoculture, could rule that a student flunked “social justice” by displaying a negative view of multicultural theory and other policies of the left. At Washington State University, where the college of education tried to expel a conservative student for flunking “dispositions,” the dean was asked whether Justice Antonin Scalia could pass a dispositions test at her school. “I don’t know how to answer that,” she replied.

As NCATE tells it, “the term ‘social justice,’ though well understood by NCATE’s institutions, was widely and wildy misinterpreted by commentators not familiar with the working of NCATE.” The group now defines professional dispositions as “professional attitudes, values and beliefs demonstrated through both verbal and non-verbal behaviors. The two professional dispositions that NCATE expects institutions to assess are fairness and the belief that all students can learn. Based on their missions and conceptual framework, professional education units can identify, define and operationalize additional professional dispositions.”

This is a mild improvement. Still, one wonders about those “non-verbal behaviors” and how they will be judged. The word “fairness” remains a linguistic sinkhole and the phrase “additional professional dispositions” keeps the door open for more politicization. NCATE’s “clarification” doesn’t clarify much.

St. Andrews Runs Afoul Of Accreditors

ACTA comments on an accreditation tussle afflicting St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College. It seems that the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (there’s a mouthful) is less-than enthusiastic about the college’s current expansion plans – and has placed it on an accrediting probation. ACTA is skeptical as to whether the commission should be second-guessing the board-created development plan, and notes, prudently, that such doubts should not endanger a college’s academic credentials:

As ACTA shows in its recent policy paper, “Why Accreditation Doesn’t Work and What Policymakers Can Do About It”, accreditors routinely overstep the bounds of their authority, and, as long as federal student aid hangs in the balance, there isn’t a lot schools can do to resist them. The system urgently needs reform, and the first step is to break the corrupting link between accreditation and federal student aid.

St. Andrews is a perfect case in point: an accreditor micromanaging financial matters that are best left to the board while ignoring the issue that should be its primary and determining concern, educational quality. St. Andrews has been singled out by U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Monthly, the Princeton Review, by Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, and many others for its innovative and effective curriculum. Even more to the point, SACS itself has praised the caliber of the college’s programs. By SACS’ own lights, St. Andrews is succeeding in its educational mission.

And yet, St. Andrews’ future is uncertain because the overweening bureaucrats at SACS have decided to involve themselves in fiduciary matters and to second guess the trustees who are legally responsible for the institution. St. Andrews’ financial plan may be wise – or not. But that’s something for its trustees to decide, not its accreditor.

If federal student aid weren’t tied to accreditation, St. Andrews could simply forego accreditation and forge ahead on its own. But as things stand, St. Andrews will lose everything it has worked for if it loses accreditation. Without accreditation, students who need federal aid will not be able to attend the school; they will go elsewhere, and the student body will decline in both numbers and economic diversity. SACS has St. Andrews in a stranglehold – one that arguably benefits no one but itself.