George Leef’s latest column for Forbes discusses the role the federal government plays in propping up groups that offer accreditation for colleges and universities.

Before the federal government got into the business of subsidizing higher education, almost nobody paid any attention to the various college accrediting bodies. Colleges and universities could seek their stamp of approval and many did, but there wasn’t any penalty for not doing so.

That changed when, during LBJ’s Great Society, the federal government began establishing the grant and loan programs meant to make college “affordable” to more Americans. The problem was, how to keep students from wasting the money on bogus degrees at ersatz colleges?

Here’s the solution our politicians devised: students could only use their federal money at schools that were accredited. The operative assumption was that accredited colleges must be reasonably good and unaccredited ones were probably bad if not downright fraudulent.

Thus, the accreditation organizations “recognized” by the Department of Education became the gatekeepers for the greatly desired flow of federal student aid. As usual, though, the politicians didn’t consider the long-run implications of their action.

One implication was that the accreditors had been given enormous power over colleges that soon became hooked on students with federal aid money.