Literature Review Chapter: Higher Education Accreditation

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Higher Education Accreditation

There are many things that affect accreditation and higher education in general. One of those things is the political climate. While most people may not associate politics with higher education, the funding that is offered to educational institutions of any level is generally affected by who is in office, to which political party they belong, and how that party has traditionally prioritized issues such as higher education (Dar & Spence, 2011). Not all of the issues surrounding higher education are divided down party lines, however. One of the most significant questions recently asked regarding this issue was how (and whether) partisanship actually affects policy priorities and expenditures in the U.S. (Dar & Spence, 2011). Education should not be a partisan issue, because it should be something about which all parties and all candidates are concerned (Dar & Spence, 2011). Despite the way things "should" be, though, there are still many partisan issues where higher education is concerned. It does not look as though this will be changing in the near future (Dar & Spence, 2011).

Partisanship does matter when it comes to institutions of higher learning, but some of the policies that are created and distributed do not clearly fall on the left or the right of the political spectrum (Dar & Spence, 2011). What is to be done when higher education becomes not a partisan problem but an overall political problem? That is a question which some scholars seek to answer, but they have not yet definitively done so. When higher education issues such as accreditation do not fall strictly on the left or right politically, it is argued that partisanship is still important (Dar & Spence, 2011). However, the importance of higher education and partisanship as it pertains to that issue changes to something that is deeply affected by other factors such as the economic climate at the time and the degree of ideological polarization that is being faced by the country (Dar & Spence, 2011).

Which party has control can definitely affect the higher education budget and rulings made on the future of that budget, as well as what is acceptable or not acceptable from a higher education standpoint (Dar & Spence, 2011). It has been found that having an additional legislator who is of the Democratic mindset, especially during times where there is high unemployment and a high degree of polarization, has a strong effect on the budget share and spending levels that are offered to higher education institutions (Dar & Spence, 2011). Data from 1876 to 2004 was used to determine that outcome, and led the researcher to conclude that policy considerations that do not follow a standard partisan mindset will have conditional and predictable effects based on the prevailing political party in office (Dar & Spence, 2011). That is worth considering when higher education seems to be running short of funds but yet the demands for accreditation and other proof of value continue to rise.

The quality of higher education is often measured by whether (and by what institution or organization) a university is accredited (Eaton, et al., 2005). These accrediting agencies work very hard to let the public know about the importance of quality in the higher education realm (Eaton, et al., 2005). However, in recent years they are finding that the higher education system is becoming more complex and controversial in nature because of the Higher Education Act (Eaton, et al., 2005). Society is changing, and higher education needs and demands are changing with it. The private space that used to belong to only a few institutions and accrediting bodies is opening up, and more places are offering accreditation to more institutions (Eaton, et al., 2005). Because that is the case, there is a concern about the quality of the accrediting institutions and what accreditation really means if there are so many places that can offer it (Eaton, et al., 2005). How much validity does accreditation have when a school can get it from nearly anywhere at any time?

Lawmakers and others are interested in making sure the public is informed about the quality of higher education and about the "recognized" or "legitimate" accrediting bodies throughout the United States (Eaton, et al., 2005). However, lately there have been challenges to some of those accrediting bodies, and concerns that others that are not recognized may be just as valid. This has thrown the entire idea of accreditation into a tailspin because it is becoming increasingly more difficult to determine what accreditation is valid and acceptable and what is not (Eaton, et al., 2005). Additionally, some universities and other institutions accept different kinds of accreditations as being valid, while these same accreditations may not be valid at other universities in which a student is attempting to enroll (Eaton, et al., 2005). That is a serious concern, because it can keep a student from attending a college or university simply based on the school he or she attended previously and by whom that school was accredited (Eaton, et al., 2005). It is easy to see this is a serious dilemma.

Over the course of the last few years, one of the things lawmakers have asked for has been additional information from accrediting organizations. In other words, they want to know about the academic performance of higher education institutions those organizations accredit, along with the programs that are offered there and the outcomes for student learning (Eaton, et al., 2005). These are reasonable requests, and the desire is to provide that information to the public in order to allow the public to make decisions that are better informed when it comes to the acceptance of a particular accrediting institution. All valid accrediting institutions currently report at least some of that information (Eaton, et al., 2005). The issue, though, is that lawmakers are asking for this information. That delves into the role of the federal government and whether it should be controlling higher education in that way (Eaton, et al., 2005). The autonomous nature of higher education could be threatened by these demands (Eaton, et al., 2005).

One of the most significant conclusions that has been reached in recent years is that accreditation does not improve or ensure the quality of the university of what was being taught there, and was not protecting the curriculum or the students (American, 2007). In fact, accreditation information was giving parents, students, and decision-makers in the public almost nothing other than a false sense of security that they would be securing a good education by only attending a school that was accredited by a specific accrediting organization (American, 2007). Further study into the issue indicates that the problem is ongoing and that it is getting worse (American, 2007). There are many stories collected regarding how accreditation organizations are not providing anything of value to universities and other educational institutions, and how those same organizations are not offering any kind of meaningful criteria by which they test for inclusion (American, 2007).

Parents and students feel "safe" with a university that is accredited, and have been taught that unaccredited (or differently accredited) universities are "fly by night" organizations that will take their money and not teach them anything (American, 2007). Still, investigation into this issue has shown that there are many valid but unaccredited or differently accredited universities, and that many accredited universities still have lapses in programs and teaching that have not been in any way prevented by becoming (or staying) accredited (American, 2007). There is no meaningful test that is given to make an accreditation determination, and there is no assurance of quality academic engagement (American, 2007). Instead, all that is being seen with accreditation in the U.S. today is a bad policy that is stopping educational institutions from remaining autonomous (American, 2007). It makes sense that the country should not give taxpayer money to schools that are not legitimate, but accreditation is not the way to determine legitimacy for any institution of higher learning today (American, 2007).

In the years between 1989 and 2009, many organizations that offered regional accreditation were on the defensive (Crow, 2009). These organizations were generally created in the 1950s, and what they did and how they did it had not changed much since then - at least until the early 1990s (Crow, 2009). At that time, Congress had heard so many tales of abuse and fraud tied to financial aid that it determined accreditation was no longer trustworthy and was not doing its job (Crow, 2009). Rather than abolish it, accrediting institutions were ordered to make changes. That came about through the reauthorization of the higher Education Act (Crow, 2009). This took place in 1992, and placed a multitude of new and improved requirements on any organization that wanted to continue to be able to accredit colleges and universities and be national or regionally recognized as having the power to do so (Crow, 2009). Without proper accreditation from a recognized and approved organization, a university would not be able to receive federal… [END OF PREVIEW]

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