Economist: Accrediation System Is Broken

Published November 10, 2010

Ohio University economist and higher education finance expert Richard Vedder offered a brief history of accreditation at a panel on the proposed regulations at the Heritage Foundation in October.

“Accreditation was originally devised as an information device to interested parties—students, parents, college donors, even university presidents, and the like—so that they could have some information on whether schools meet at least minimal standards or not. Until a few decades ago, accreditation was strictly voluntary,” Vedder explained.

‘Ineffective at Quality Control’
Today, however, Vedder says accreditation is secretive, complex, and expansive and is “ineffective at providing true quality control, riddled with conflicts of interest, excessively input-based, and [acting] as a cartel-like institutional barrier to entry.”

Accrediting agencies also often fail to make distinctions between “truly marginally accepted institutions and those offering first-rate programs,” Vedder said.

Vedder calls the federal regulations requiring state approval of new private colleges and trade schools “absurd and clearly detrimental to the expansion of educational opportunities to students.”

The regulations “violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Vedder said. “They will greatly increase the cost of accreditation, freezing out smaller but often highly innovative new educational institutions from participating in affordable higher education programs using modern technology.”

Lindsey Burke ([email protected]) is an education policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.