Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Accreditation also claims improvement. Hah.

The Third Joke of Accreditation…Improvement



      In earlier articles I showed that accreditation is a joke as far as core requirements (giving graduates a body of knowledge so that they’re educated) and effectiveness (showing that graduates have actually learned something) are concerned; both jokes hinge on the self-analysis that accreditation allows, the institution merely need to decide for itself that it’s doing the job it charges so much for, and that’s that. The next joke doesn’t rely upon conflict of interest, it’s hysterical on the face of it, and concerns “improvement.” Institutions are actually required to identify their goals in education, and to show improvement (it’s section 3.3.1 in SACS’ Principles of Accreditation, and other accrediting regulations have similar language).

     Again, the institution shows improvement by looking at itself and judging itself based on the evidence it feels like looking at, but the joke is even funnier than that. Let’s pretend that’s no conflict of interest in having the institution self-determine if it’s doing the job, so we can see the funnier joke.

     The accredited institution must show improvement in outcomes of its own choosing. These outcomes are reduced to easily quantifiable terms, for example, student retention (that’s right, simply holding students on campus, retention, as long as possible, can be judged as part of institutional success).

     It must be this way. Most of actual education is impossible to precisely define, much less precisely quantify the levels of education. It may be possible to say one student poem is better than another, for example, but to say with certainty that it’s objectively 2 points better, or 5 points better, or whatever? This is all but impossible in a single poem, much less over the course of the 6 years of education a typical student needs to get a 4 year degree.  In order to show improvement, you must quantify education.

     Accreditation requires this impossible thing, so for the sake of argument, let’s assume measuring education is possible and that steady improvement (necessary for accreditation) is possible, and note the incredible joke that follows: there are accrediting bodies that ask for this as part of accreditation for decades, and yet we are to believe those accredited institutions are generally showing improvement in educating their students. If there is so much improvement in the manner in which education is provided, why is there endless evidence of grade inflation and greatly reduced coursework on college campuses? Improvement means doing more, not less.

     How can such improvement exist when literally everyone familiar with the topic acknowledges students coming into college are weaker and less prepared than a generation or two ago? Institutions are improving their outcomes with less all the time.

     Where are the big breakthroughs that all this improvement should have created?  In addition to being less prepared, students study far less now than in years past. Probably as a result of the reduced student workload, measureable improvement in learning is minimal for a large percentage of students even after years of “study” (as shown by the book, Academically Adrift). And yet we’re to believe that education is improving at accredited institutions in a documented quantifiable way, and that this improvement has been shown year in and year out for a very long time.

     Even though improvement is completely impossible to legitimately show, every accredited institution provides evidence of improvement on a near constant basis. I’ve sat in on many a meeting and been told by administrators that we need to show improvement. Even back when my school offered no government student loan money (because we weren’t accredited), and passing rates in my classes were higher than reported than at any accredited institution (because our students were primarily the ones that wanted to learn and paid with their own money), still administration was asking for improvement. I could have a 100% passing rate and still improvement was asked for. Yes, without student loans I might only have five students in my class (granting 4 As and a B, for example)…and I was asked to improve. Now, with all the loan money, I have 25 students in my class (giving 4 As, a B, a few C’s, and everyone else dropping)…and still I am told to improve. 

     Year after year, accredited institutions show that they’re improving in their mission of education, even though everyone in this industry for more than a decade knows there’s been no improvement whatsoever, only ever larger classes, ever lower requirements…and ever higher tuition. Claims of improvement must be a joke.

     Is the proper response to a school successfully getting accreditation to laugh? Should accreditation ask for the impossible? When the impossible is provided, shouldn’t that be taken as indication of fraud?


Think about it.





  1. During my last year of teaching, I taught service courses to a different department.

    This department had applied for accreditation and it put on a good show for the examining committee. I became part of the process because I taught those courses. Being the only one with a Ph. D. didn't hurt the department's image, either.

    However, once that committee had finished its tour, heard the department's sales pitch and went back home, things changed. I was informed soon after the committee left that my days with that department would be numbered and that I should revert back to the standards and course content that existed before. In effect, the department went back to business as usual and at least some of the standards it claimed it would introduce and uphold turned out to be nothing but vapourware. I was left with the impression that I had been an unwitting party to fraud, though I couldn't prove it.

    Even before that happened, I was debating quitting my position. I had been there long enough and decided it was time to move on. I hesitated doing so as resigning would have meant a major change in my circumstances.

    However, on the morning of the day I submitted my resignation, I read that the department's application for accreditation had been accepted. I decided then and there that my time at that institution was over. I gave notice to my dean shortly afterward.

  2. The same thing happened to me; once my public institution got accreditation, my "ilk" was no longer wanted, and I was treated with nothing but disrespect.

    The reason, of course, is once accreditation is granted, the institution past that point pretty self-analyzes whether it's worthy of being accredited. No matter how sleazy, corrupt, and wasteful the institution is, admin never seems to believe the institution isn't worthy of accreditation.