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Can College Accreditation Live Up to Its Promise

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ACCREDITATION CAN COLLEGE PROMISE ? LIVE UP TO ITS American Council of Trustees and Alumni By George C. Leef and Roxana D. Burris “The most important hope for accreditation is that it will result in positive changes for the education of students. This study explores how well that hope is being realized today and makes thoughtful recommendations for how it might be better realized in the future.” – Hank Brown President, University of Northern Colorado “This study makes it clear that trus
  ? C AN C OLLEGE  A  CCREDITATION  L IVE U P TO ITS P ROMISE  American Council of Trustees and Alumni By George C. Leef and Roxana D. Burris  “This study makes it clear that trustees should be deeplyinvolved in a process that can shape the future of their institu-tions for good or ill. More than that, it argues persuasively for areappraisal of the whole system of accreditation.”  – Candace de RussyTrustee, State University of New York;Chairman, Academic Standards Committee “The most important hope for accreditation is that it willresult in positive changes for the education of students. Thisstudy explores how well that hope is being realized today andmakes thoughtful recommendations for how it might be betterrealized in the future.”  – Hank Brown President, University of Northern Colorado “College accreditation is one of those things that wepretty much take as a given. This study, however, asks hardquestions about accreditation and comes to sensible conclu-sions. It is important reading for anyone concerned about costand quality in higher education.”  – Jim Miller former Director, Office of Management and Budget “From my perspective, the great weakness in collegeaccreditation is that it is sometimes done by people who areless expert than those whom they are supposedly overseeing.For that reason, the accreditors retreat into the kinds of inputmeasures they can understand and verify. I commend thispaper for helping to show that and other shortcomings of accreditation.”  – Hans Mark former Chancellor, University of Texas System  Foreword  Academic accreditation is a subject that is rarely discussed. Among thelarge educational controversies of our day, it barely registers with mostpeople. After hearing from a number of college professors, trustees, andadministrators that the accreditation system seemed to do more toraise costs than to improve or even maintain educational quality,the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) undertook aninvestigation of the accreditation system. In the report thatfollows, we present our findings and conclusions. Putting the matter ina nutshell, we conclude that accreditation has not served to ensurequality, has not protected the curriculum from serious degradation, andgives students, parents, and public decision-makers almost no usefulinformation about institutions of higher education. Accreditation has,however, imposed significant monetary and non-monetary costs. Wecall for changes in policy at the federal, state, and institutional levels. With this report, we hope to stimulate debate over the accreditationsystem. Should federal law make it the gatekeeper for billions in stu-dent aid funds? Should there be competition among accrediting agen-cies? Are there other means of ensuring academic quality? Those areamong the issues that we believe ought to be analyzed and discussedmore thoroughly.Jerry L. MartinAnne D. NealPresidentExecutive Director   Acknowledgments This report was prepared by the staff of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, primarily George C. Leef and Roxana D. Burris.The authors wish to acknowledge the assistance of Anne D. Neal,George Pieler, and William Tell in the research and analysis. Specialthanks go to the William and Karen Tell Foundation for their support of this effort.The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is an educationalnonprofit based in Washington, DC dedicated to academic freedom,quality and accountability. ACTA has also published  Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21  st Century (2000); The Shakespeare File: What English Majors Are Really Studying (1996);and The Intelligent Donor’s Guide to College Giving (1996).For further information about ACTA and its programs, please contact: American Council of Trustees and Alumni1726 M Street, NW, Suite 800 Washington, DC 20036Telephone: 202-467-6787; 1-888-ALUMNI-8Facsimile: 202-467-6784Email: Website:
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