Monday, September 24, 2018

Higher Learning Commission: Accreditation Is No Sign Of Quality

"Yet in practice, accreditors—who are paid by the institutions themselves—appear to be ineffectual at best, much like the role of credit rating agencies during the recent financial crisis." David Deming and David Figlio in Accountability in US Education: Applying Lessons from K–12 Experience to Higher Education (2016)

As a watchdog of America's subprime colleges and a monitor of the College Meltdown, I can tell you that institutional accreditation is no sign of quality. Worse yet, accreditation by organizations such as the Middle States Association, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and the Higher Learning Commission is used by subprime colleges to lend legitimacy to their predatory, low standard operations. 

[Image below: DeVry University uses its accreditation to lend credibility to its brand.]
According to the US Department of Education, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accredits 946 Title IV schools, including some of the nation’s most well-respected public and private colleges. As the America’s largest accreditor, it is a gatekeeper to its member schools collecting close to $40B annually in Title IV funds and many billions more from the Department of Defense (Tuition Assistance) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) GI Bill.

The Higher Learning Commission monitors excellent schools like University of Chicago, University of Colorado, University of Michigan, Notre Dame, and University of Wisconsin. But it also accredits a number of subprime schools, including Colorado Technical University, DeVry University, University of Phoenix, Walden University, National American University, and Purdue University Global.
On the three pillars of regional accreditation: compliance, quality assurance and quality improvement, the Higher Learning Commission gets a failing grade by supporting subprime colleges.

Insiders in higher education have been well aware of the corruption inherent in accreditation, but few speak of it publicly. The way the system works, accreditors like the Higher Learning Commission receive most of their their money from member schools, which gives them a vested interest in keeping their customers viable, even among their worst or most predatory performers.

Despite protests from the American Association of University Professors, The Higher Learning Commission has been accrediting for-profit colleges since 1977 and ethically questionable schools for nearly 20 years. In 2000, Executive Director Steven Crow defended the HLC's accrediting of Jones University, an online for-profit college that is no longer in operation.

Rather than acting as auditors, higher education accreditors for decades have acted as shills for whomever they accredit, and that can include some of the most predatory and substandard schools in America.
"I really worry about the intrusion of the profit motive in the accreditation system. Some of them, as I have said, will accredit a ham sandwich, and I think it's very important for us to make sure that they're independent and not being bought off by the Internet." -Mary A. Burgan, General Secretary of the American Association of University Professors (2000)
Many accreditors are part of a larger organization called the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which acts more as a barrier than a supporter of educational quality.
So who's watching the accreditors? In reality, it's no one.
[Image below from CHEA shows Higher Learning Commission dues for member colleges. Over the last 30 years, the Higher Learning Commission has received millions of dollars from subprime schools like University of Phoenix.]

The US Department of Education does very little or nothing in terms of overseeing higher education quality, and the Trump-DeVos administration has done a great deal to roll back the modest regulations enacted by President Obama.

In July, an internal investigation showed that the US Department of Education was not properly watching the accreditors, and it's very likely the situation will worsen. The agency is in the process of reviewing accreditation and accreditors, but the foxes are submitting more comments then the hens.

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