The Accreditation Bust
New study casts doubt on whether accreditation of our colleges is a good mark of quality.
“Don’t waste your time and money. If that degree isn’t from an accredited school, potential employers won’t care that you have it,” advises G.I. Jobs, a website dedicated to giving guidance to veterans.
“Attending a school that is not accredited at all can mean leaving your education and your future up to chance. Schools that are not accredited are held to few or no standards or regulations,” says the University of Louisville’s online programs site.
And if you want federal financial aid to go to college, the institution you attend must be accredited or else it can’t receive federal financial aid.
So is accreditation a good mark of quality?
It turns out that’s not so clear. At least not according to a recently released report from Stig Leschly, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School and CEO of College101, a nonprofit advocacy and research organization, and Yazmin Guzman, a research and data analyst with College101. The study offers significant reasons to be doubtful of accreditation’s value to students.
Start with the fact that of the 10 standards that federal policy dictates accreditors monitor, only one pertains to outcomes. The others pertain to inputs, such as an institution’s faculty, curricula, and facilities. These might or might not cause students to get great outcomes — or even correlate to outcomes.
A Wall Street Journal analysis of colleges that have lost their accreditation finds that “Nearly 350 out of more than 1,500 four-year colleges now accredited… have a lower graduation rate or higher student-loan default rate than the average among the colleges that were banished by the same accreditors since 2000.”
Mr. Leschly’s and Ms. Guzman’s new report, titled “Oversight of Academic Quality and Student Outcomes by Accreditors of US Higher Education,” adds fuel to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s famous quip that, “For the most part, accreditation agencies are watchdogs that don’t bite.”
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