Architecture. Grad School. The State of the Profession. Field Trips. Agony. Ecstasy. Life. Etc.

Architecture Addiction, The Official Blog of

unSchool of Architecture
suggested reading/bookstore
other blogs I like
my portfolio
fieldtrips & workshops*
categories | archives | search
contact | rss

What good is accreditation?
by Katy Purviance on 11/21/10 @ 10:22:38 am
Categories: Grad School | 1372 words | 1129 views

As my Board of Directors and I discuss the form that VERB design/build school will take, we keep coming up to the issue of accreditation. Getting accredited is a lengthy and expensive process, but it would mean that our students would be eligible for federal financial aid.

But shaping a school so that it complies with another organization’s standards oftentimes means killing the soul of smaller, unique schools…especially schools that are more interested in the actual output of the school.

And then today I came across this article that speaks to some of the larger problems of accreditation. Please read…

Quality Guarantee or a Waste of Money?
Accreditation of colleges and universities has substantial costs but minimal benefits.

By George Leef

Suppose that my son’s weekly piano lesson consisted not of diligent work with his teacher to perfect his playing of an etude by Chopin, but instead they just spent the time on video games. Would that matter to anyone?

Well, it would certainly matter to me. I’d be wasting my money. But it wouldn’t affect anyone else.

Things would be much different, however, if the money to pay the teacher came from taxpayers. Put aside the obvious point that many would say that their money shouldn’t be used for music lesson, no matter how diligent the instruction might be. Even pro-piano zealots would not want to pay for lessons where nothing was accomplished.

And that gets at the reason why people care about higher education accreditation: America subsidizes a great number of college students and the taxpayers don’t want the money going to waste on worthless courses and programs. Accreditation exists “to assure that institutions and programs meet threshold expectations of quality and to assure that they improve over time.” That’s what the Council for Higher Education Accreditation says, at least.

Sounds good, but how well does accreditation actually work?

A recent report issued by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, “The Inmates Running the Asylum?” Takes a highly skeptical look at our system of accreditation. The authors, Andrew Gillen, Daniel Bennett, and Richard Vedder, conclude that “accreditation in its current form needs to be abandoned entirely.”

Don’t they care about educational quality?!

They certainly do, but argue persuasively that our accreditation system is not capable of achieving the goals of educational quality. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that the authors cite a paper I co-authored in 2002 which came to the same conclusion.) Just because a college or university is accredited does not ensure that its educational programs are worthwhile or that they’re improving.

Conversely, academically sound schools can get into accrediting trouble. The Pope Center covered one such case involving St. Andrews Presbyterian College. Questions about a school’s financial viability (as with St. Andrews) are far more apt to lead to threats from accreditors than are bad learning outcomes.

Gillen, Bennett and Vedder note that college accreditation depends overwhelmingly on the assessment of its inputs and procedures rather than on outcomes. Schools that appear to be following the accepted model for education can get and keep accreditation. They need to have completed a lot of paperwork such as institutional mission statements and self-study evaluations, have proper facilities, employ professors with good credentials, have sufficient financing, and so on in order to earn an accreditor’s stamp of approval.

Those requirements do prevent diploma mills (i.e., educationally fraudulent schools that don’t teach, but merely sell bogus degrees) from earning genuine accreditation. (There are also phony accreditation groups.) That’s important because government student aid money can only go to schools that have been accredited by a recognized accrediting agency. By preventing students from spending their government aid at diploma mills, we deter them from squandering money on unquestionably fraudulent institutions.

Unfortunately, our accrediting system does not prevent “real” colleges and universities from operating with such low standards that many students graduate with pathetically poor skills in “the three Rs.” It is not uncommon for weak and disengaged students to enroll in an accredited college and manage to accumulate enough credits to graduate, but learn little in the way of valuable skills and knowledge.

Those schools are different from the diploma mills, where there isn’t even a pretense of education. They have real classes. Students have to do some work. Most importantly, it’s possible for students who really want to learn to do so. Colleges do not, however, lose accreditation over pitifully low academic achievement by most of their students because accreditation is not based on academic achievement.

Accreditation teams do not attempt to find out whether, for example, graduates have improved their reading and writing abilities. The growing public perception that many students waste their college years on “beer and circus” has caused the accrediting agencies to pay lip service to learning outcomes, but their efforts have been futile. The authors explain: “Since 1992, accreditors have been required to collect evidence of student learning, but the college lobby has ensured that these are self designed assessments.”

In other words, schools get by with low standards as long as they have policies in place that are supposed to eventually improve them. Accreditation doesn’t require proof of results, just that officials look like they’re doing something to improve them.

Therefore, the authors conclude that there are few, if any benefits to accreditation. It does not ensure that the money taxpayers are putting into college subsidies is generating educational gains. True, it keeps money from flowing into diploma mills, but it can still be wasted at lots of accredited colleges.

The system has little benefit, but it unquestionably has substantial costs.

Schools have some direct costs if they want to become or remain accredited. They have to pay the accrediting associations (which are private groups composed of colleges and universities, not governmental agencies) for their services. Those costs, the authors state, are not particularly high, but are dwarfed by the indirect costs—all the time that is consumed in preparing the decennial reaccreditation visit.

One professor told me that when he was a junior faculty member at a well-regarded liberal arts college, he and several others professors were given a full year’s release from teaching so that they could work on preparing for the reaccreditation visit from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). In addition to the lost teaching time, the college also suffered considerable expense in projects meant to impress SACS, such as a new “green” dormitory, that had no impact on the school’s already fine academic programs.

The accreditation mandate also gives the accreditors enormous leverage. Many schools would have a very hard time surviving if they lost their accreditation and accreditors have sometimes misused that leverage to promote ideological agendas. The authors recount a number of instances where accreditation power was used to push a “diversity” agenda and I have often heard the same thing.

Instead of ensuring that college programs are of high quality and students are putting tax dollars to good use, the accreditation system imposes needless costs and empowers the accreditors to dictate to schools that don’t need their meddling.

Gillen, Bennett, and Vedder suggest several ways in which college accreditation could be improved, such as getting away from “binary” decisions (that is, either accredited or not), and allowing for competition among accrediting bodies (currently the main undergraduate accrediting associations have regional monopolies), but their key recommendation is that the federal government stop relying on accreditation as the determinant of eligibility for federal student aid funds.

They advocate a replacement system that would be “far more outcomes-based” than the accreditation system, such as standardized national examinations in various disciplines that would indicate whether schools were really educating students or just going through the motions. The latter would lose eligibility for federal funds.

College accreditation arose and developed long before the advent of federal student aid and turning it into the gatekeeper for access to government student aid was a mistake. When accreditation was voluntary, it probably accomplished at least some good. Now that it’s almost mandatory, it has become predictably authoritarian and wasteful. It’s time to undo the mistake.


Bookmark and Share Send Feedback | Permalink


No Pingbacks for this post yet...

Previous post: College Educated Graduates Who Can't Buy Homes and Can't Have Families
Next post: Reflections on the year later

our sponsors
Other Blogs I Like
GSD Blogs:
Ben in Paris
A Large Lumpy Rock
Wayfinding with Waxman
Other Blogs:
Saved By Design
Jetson Green
Core 77
Rammed Earth is for Everyone
Raw Design Build
Lloyd Kahn's blog
Form Follows You Home
Burning Down the House - Radio Architecture
Unhappy Hipsters
Design Vote
Truly Minimal Plan
February 2018
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
 << <   > >>
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28      


Me on Burning Down the House
The VERB School
August 18 2010

October 20 2010

Licensure in the USA
November 17 2010

Become One of Us...Subscribe to Architecture Addiction
Give the gift of an architecture book to Architecture Addiction
Radio Architecture
Listen live to Burning Down the House, Wednesdays 4PT/7ET
Or download the podcasts from iTunes

our sponsors
It's Finally Here
unSchool of Architecture is here. Enter your name and email below to learn more.

Architecture School Survey
Hi. My name is Katy. I like it when you write to me and tell me about the cool stuff you're doing in architecture. Yes, I write back.* I may publish your letter and my reply on the blog. If you don't want me to do that, you can just ask that I withhold your name, or if you're really serious about keeping your letter a secret, you can ask me to just not publish it at all. Of course I'll still write back to you. * I hope you'll take this opportunity to share your thoughts with our worldwide audience.

[Fields marked (*) are required]


Your Name:*

Your Email Address:*

Your Question or Suggestion:*

After you click Submit, you'll come right back to the blog!

* Unless you spam me.

Created by Contact Form Generator

places where you could probably learn more about designing and building in just a few days than I did after a year of grad school

Know of some others I can add here? Let me know. Have you already visited some of these places...or planning on it? Let me know and I will feature your story and your photos here!

I am starting a new kind of architecture school. Unlike most architecture schools, you wouldn't have to submit GRE scores or good grades or letters of recommendation. You wouldn't have to put the rest of your life on hold for 3 to 5 years. You wouldn't have to accrue tens of thousands of dollars in debt. At my architecture school, anyone could come for a few weeks and learn how to build a house with their own two hands. My teachers would take skills and concepts from some of these other workshops I've listed above... except classes would be held year-round to make it easy to fit into your schedule. I would have a number of different campuses around the country that would teach building designs appropriate to the local climate. And I need your help. Can you donate land for a campus? Can you dotate books for a library? Can you teach a workshop? Can you provide start-up capital? Let me know.

suggested reading/bookstore

Need more? Visit our bookstore

where is everybody?
Locations of visitors to this page

Who's Online Now?

  • Guest Users: 16
random quote generator

Give me another

our sponsors