Look ahead to 2014—not that far away. That's what Judith S. Eaton does in a grim projection, based on current trends leading away from self-accreditation by colleges and universities (such as through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) to government regulations that give only lip service to self-regulation.
Dr. Eaton is president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. She paints a picture that, as she puts it, eventually resembles Alice in Wonderland: “Self-regulation is, after all, just government regulation that I like.”
The entire article is available from Inside Higher Ed., along with responses from a number of heavy hitters in the higher education community.
Some excerpts, written as if the worst had already happened:
It was the year 2014 and the shrinking of accreditation was complete. Self-regulation through voluntary accreditation had almost disappeared from the higher education landscape. It had been replaced with federal control of thousands of U.S. colleges and universities.
How did this take place? Voluntary accreditation was undermined by a public that now vested greater authority in government judgment about performance of colleges and universities rather than accreditation, a nongovernmental, rather obscure and “private” source of judgment of quality that had come to be viewed as inadequate. The press and elected officials, increasingly reflecting public sentiment, were routinely describing accreditation as insular and, at times, even arrogant in its lack of full transparency and responsiveness to the public.
Now here's a response from Clifford Adelman, senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education policy (and former key official with the U.S. Department of Education):
Leaving aside the shallow and juvenile analysis and prescriptions of the Spellings commission and the obsequious kow-towing of major higher education organizations to its “let’s grab any test that crosses the radar screen” approach to accountability, qualification frameworks would bring a lot more transparency to the system than we currently have, and certainly would tell students what their degrees mean, something that’s rather elusive now. The 46 countries involved in the Bologna process (it’s more than the European Union, Ms. Eaton) are demonstrating as much, in different ways, though it is a slow process. As IHEP’s forthcoming “The Bologna Club: What U.S. Higher Education Can Learn from a Decade of European Reconstruction” argues, this is a state matter—-and a matter for the disciplines, based on the “Tuning” methodology that has now been imitated in Latin America as well. In this, the individual European higher education systems are behaving as our states would: singing in the same key, but not with the same melodic line. It’s hard work to develop those frameworks—-5 years for any one of them. But it sure opens the doors of perception. Do not, however, let the Feds anywhere near it. Among other reasons: the Department of Education does not have the intellectual, creative, or organizational capacity to pull it off. Thank goodness!