Congress did more than just reauthorize the Act, though. It also required that state agencies be established that would be able to handle some of the work that accrediting agencies were once expected to do on their own (Crow, 2009). By doing that, it was assumed accreditation would be easy to attain for deserving schools, and the value of being accredited would be seen once again (Crow, 2009). It became a failed experiment and did not work out in the way Congress had hoped. All it did was make more work for the states, but the accrediting agencies modified many of their policies and practices so that they could meet federal requirements that had been set out for them (Crow, 2009). One of the main requirements they had to meet to retain the ability to legitimately accredit universities and other higher learning institutions was to clearly spell out the expectations for student learning that had to be achieved by universities to earn accreditation (Crow, 2009).
Not everyone believes that accreditation is bad, or that it does not provide safety and security for students. Its basic functions are to help universities ensure quality for students and also to help those same universities improve in areas where they may be somewhat lacking in quality (Brittingham, O'Brien, & Alig, 2008). The goal of accreditation (and one at which many scholars think it has failed) is to provide information to students, parents, prospective employers, and other universities regarding the academic integrity and standards of quality that are upheld by a particular academic institution (Brittingham, O'Brien, & Alig, 2008). This not only helps people make informed decisions about where they wish to attend college, but it also helps universities and other higher learning institutions focus on what they can do better and what they need to do if they are interested in earning accreditation from a regional body (Brittingham, O'Brien, & Alig, 2008). Studying accreditation can help a researcher determine for himself or herself as to the value of that accreditation and whether it continues to be a viable idea for higher education.
Researching in preparation for becoming accredited is an important step for colleges and universities. Without being aware of what they need to accomplish, it becomes difficult for any higher learning institution to get the accreditation it needs (Brittingham, O'Brien, & Alig, 2008). Fortunately for universities that still believe in the value of higher education, and for those that want to be able to receive federal funding, it is possible to research the guidelines and know what needs to be done in order to attain accredited status (Brittingham, O'Brien, & Alig, 2008). With that in mind, any university with a legitimate curriculum and a high quality of teaching cannot simply be accredited. There are guidelines that must be followed and there are student learning outcomes that have to be met (Brittingham, O'Brien, & Alig, 2008). Perhaps the greatest recent change to the requirements is in those outcomes.
Accreditation reviews are conducted each year, and staff, faculty, and administrators on U.S. campuses around the country must all make preparations for them (Brittingham, 2009). The process is one that is widely accepted throughout higher education and the basic tenets of it are well-known to anyone who has been involved in higher education for very long. There are a set of standards that must be met, a self-study which must be conducted, a review of the information by the institution's peers, and a decision made by a commission appointed for just that very thing (Brittingham, 2009). However, the context and development of accreditation are something else entirely, and they are often gray areas that are not clearly understood, even by the people who must work within them (Brittingham, 2009). Where accreditation came from, how it arrived at where it is now, and why it appears to be unique to America are all issues to be considered when it comes to learning about accreditation (Brittingham, 2009). Regional accreditation is the most popular of the options and the most commonly discussed when people talk about accreditation, but it is not the only option (Brittingham, 2009).
There are also national accreditation bodies for schools that are career-oriented or faith-based, and there are options for schools that are high professional and specialized (Brittingham, 2009). The history of accreditation is long, and there is no need to address it here. What is most significant, however, is that it appears to be here to stay despite everything it has gone through with Congress and the need to re-do many of the guidelines and rules that surround it (Brittingham, 2009). How the U.S. got to the point of accreditation is not nearly as important as where it will go from this point and what it has to offer in the future. Should accreditation stay? Should it be removed? If so, what kind of system (if any) should be put in place of it? That is one of the overarching questions regarding accreditation: if scholars and researchers do not think it is a good system, what do they think would be better?
That begs the question not of whether accreditation is good or bad, but why institutions must go through it at all, especially if they are doing well and are successful with student outcomes and other benchmarks of a quality educational institution (Why, n.d.). Many administrators and faculty members at various schools often ask themselves this very question, because they are already overburdened with administrative and teaching duties - and then they have to focus on accreditation on top of everything else on which they are already working (Why, n.d.). Accreditation is needed so that government agencies (including those that provide financial aid to students) will recognize and work with a particular university. Parents and students also want to see it, as do prospective employers and the majority of the community (Why, n.d.). But what does accreditation really mean?
Other studies addressed in this literature review have shown there is a very questionable benefit to accreditation, and that it does not directly affect the quality of the school in many cases, so why does the persistence that a university must be accredited continue? What purpose does it serve, other than as a pacifier for those who do not understand the full realm of educational opportunities and how little accreditation actually affects what a school is capable of doing? One thing accreditation does is ensure that there are benchmarks set for student achievement (Why, n.d.). It is a guidepost of sorts for what students absolutely must learn before they are allowed to receive their degrees (Why, n.d.). Institutions are forced to renew themselves and change their curriculum almost constantly, in an effort to keep up with new guidelines and new opportunities for those who are about to graduate (Why, n.d.). There are changes in the accreditation of universities, however, such as allowance for off-campus learning through the computer (Why, n.d.). that would not have been acceptable only a few short years ago, and would not have been trusted, but accredited schools are capable of offering that option.
Some scholars are deeply concerned about the political role seen in accreditation and how that might be "spilling over" from America into countries such as Britain (Harvey, 2004). That is not to say that Britain has never had any accreditation. They have had it for decades, as has the United States, but the two systems have been different in design, nature, and scope (Harvey, 2004). By looking at the views of people who have been involved in the accreditation of higher education institutions in America, and comparing them to the views of people who have been involved in the accreditation of higher education institutions in Britain, it will be possible to look at the similarities and differences as well as the value of accreditation for both countries (Harvey, 2004).There are perceived benefits with accreditation but there are also problems - some that are easily perceived and some that are more easily hidden or overlooked. The goal, though, is to raise the fundamental issues that appear within accreditation, so that they can be more easily analyzed (Harvey, 2004).
It seems as though Europe is rushing toward an accreditation system, and that the entire area is very naive in what it is doing and what it thinks accreditation will achieve for it on a large scale (Harvey, 2004). The reasons behind this are complex, but they hinge on the idea that accreditation makes things more legitimate and that it is a benign way of getting things done and making them appear more important (Harvey, 2004). Despite that belief, many scholars believe that accreditation is a very politically-charged issue and is about control and power instead of about the value of a quality education (Harvey, 2004). The shift of power is carefully concealed behind something that appears to be well-meaning and designed to help the European people find quality educational institutions, but the accreditation system in America…