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Accreditation: More Shadow Than Substance
By David W. Kirkpatrick (November 08, 2007)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
         Not until 1871, nearly 240 years after the founding of Harvard, was a system of accreditation introduced, at the University of Michigan.  At first it was a process by which University faculty visited secondary schools.   If the latter obtained and maintained the necessary accreditation the university would admit its graduates if they possessed a diploma and the recommendation of the principal.
 
         In 1885 the New England Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools was founded, followed in 1900 by the creation of the College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) by the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools of the middle Atlantic States and Maryland.
 
         Regardless of the level - secondary or collegiate - at which accreditation is applied, the idea is presumed to be one assuring the quality of the institution being reviewed. There is reason to doubt there is much success on this score.
 
         As far back as 1931 Samuel P. Capen said "I believe there should no longer be any accrediting practices.  If tomorrow morning every accrediting committee in the country should adjourn sine die and every accredited list should be destroyed, I believe American Education would receive such a stimulus as it has not received in a dozen years." (quoted, p. 135, B. Everard Blanchard, A New System of Education, Homewood, IL: ETC Pub., 1975)
 
         In the same publication, Henry M. Wriston was quoted as saying in 1960 that "The accrediting procedure does not protect us from the wretched and fraudulent institutions and the pursuit of excellence is not advanced by accrediting procedures."
 
         For one thing, even a cursory glance at the process shows the emphasis is on "inputs" rather than outcomes. There is little effort to judge what comes out of a college.  What is important seems to be money and things such as the number of Ph.D.s on the faculty, the number of library books, and administrative procedures, which may be irrelevant.
 
         For example, Ph.D. degrees.  Originating in Germany as a preparation for research, it has little relevance for positions as either a professor or administrator, for which it is most commonly a requirement.
 
         As for books in the library, that may once have been meaningful, in the days when there were few institutions of higher education in the nation.  At that time each one was largely autonomous and on site resources were useful.  That was also largely in a day before accreditation became very common.  To count books in a college or university library in more recent times when, in Philadelphia as but one of many examples, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of books within a few miles radius, and there are also interlibrary loan arrangements, is an unnecessary, expensive, and largely irrelevant requirement.  More recently, with the advent of computers and the Internet, it makes even less sense.
 
         One result, as The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education concluded 35 years ago, in its report Reform on Campus, is that "accreditation has often been a force for conformity not diversity."
 
         About the same time, in 1970, Harry Kemelman wrote that "As matters stand now, the American educational system is a hodgepodge, and the standing of the individual college and the consequent value of its degree depends on how well known the institution is and thus may depend on how successful its football team is."  Kemelman also noted, there is no way to test the efficiency of one college against another.  And, if accreditation is all its proponents claim, why does college B often refuse to accept credits for a transfer student from college A when both are fully accredited?
 
         Why is it "there is no systematic body of knowledge on how to license and approve schools...(and) no American university which offers a course in techniques of site visits" according to the National Advisory council of Education Professions Development.  That was in 1975 but, as usual in education or, more properly, in schooling at all levels, the ability to resist change, however demonstrably needed, is virtually absolute.
 
         "Like state regulations, accreditation...is no defense against bad teaching, poor curricula, or inadequate facilities." Leon Botstein, President, Bard's & Simon's Rock Colleges, p. 77, HARPER's, November 1985.

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         "A major function of higher education is openly based on a fraud: Important decisions about people's lives are made all the time on the basis of an accreditation system that cannot be trusted." p. 24, Edward M. White, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb. 3, 1975

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Copyright 2007 David W. Kirkpatrick
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