by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef probes for Forbes readers the federal government’s increased interest in the accreditation of colleges and universities.
America’s national obsession with raising our “educational attainment” level leads politicians and bureaucrats to focus on the silliest of things. Lately, that has been college accreditation.
On November 6, the U.S. Department of Education put out a press release declaring “a sense of urgency about the need for significant improvement in both the rigor and flexibility of accreditation.”
“Accreditation” and “urgency” are words that may have never before appeared in the same sentence. Aside from a few federal bureaucrats and the people who work in the accrediting agencies themselves, almost no one gives any thought to college accreditation. Oh yes—college officials sometimes think about it (with revulsion), but only when they’re due for their “reaccreditation visit” every decade.
The reason why the Obama administration regards it as urgent to change our accreditation system is that the U.S. is falling far short of the president’s stated goal of becoming the nation with the highest percentage of citizens holding college degrees by 2020 – 60 percent.
But instead of a rapid increase in college degree “production,” the numbers have actually declined slightly. That is why we’re now seeing intense scrutiny of colleges with poor graduation rates — schools that are said to be “failing their students.” The Department of Education intends to pressure those institutions to improve their student outcomes.