Criticism of Accreditors

Higher education accreditation organizations have come under much criticism lately. A recent article, “Accreditors Now Find Themselves Under Critical Review” (CHE, 2 December 2013, subscription required) highlights some of their problems. A few excerpts:

“Accreditation focuses heavily on process… with no ability to analyze what and how much students are learning. But students and employers are thinking more about the skills and outcomes necessary to succeed in the workplace.”

In Lean, the focus is on process because good process yield good results. Accreditation has shifted in recent years from a process focus to a results focus (especially related to learning outcomes). The results focus will, inevitably, cause people to take shortcuts and game the system to shows results better than they actually are.

“The [accreditation] effort involves a steering committee of about 40 administrators, who compile a report of several hundred pages detailing how the university is complying with some 95 core requirements of the Southern Association, including those involving federal rules and matters like governance and finance.”

The accreditation report should consist of one page per department or academic program. The 95 core requirements could likely be reduced to 15 core requirements without impairing the intended outcomes of accreditation that students and payers value.

“A team of 25 reviewers, picked by the accreditor, checks the report. Then another team of reviewers makes a campus visit. That team recommends an action to the board of the commission, which will decide whether to affirm or reject the university’s accreditation status.”

There is no question that accreditation is a burdensome process for university faculty and staff, accreditors, and the accreditation evaluators. That should be a big, loud signal that the process needs to be greatly improved. The university needs to kaizen its accreditation process. The accreditor needs to kaizen its accreditation requirements. The evaluators need to kaizen their accreditation review process. Each will discover that 90 percent of the process is waste (activities that add cost but add no value). Failure to this will result in continued criticism and marginalization of something that students and payers recognize as having value.

(Note: There are right ways and wrong ways to do kaizen. Make sure you do it the right way. If you like, I’ll be happy to facilitate your accreditation process improvement kaizens.)

My concern with accreditation is that the process does nothing to address the 10% problem or improve the quality of teaching by eliminating the 45 teaching errors. This should be a principal outcome of the accreditation process. Other aspects of the accreditation may be useful, but I am certain that many aspects could be combined or eliminated.

Think about how many years long established college or university have had accredited academic programs, yet the 10% problem and 45 teaching errors continue to exist, and helps drive students and payers away from face-to-face learning to alternatives such as online education, vocational programs, etc. Unfortunately, accreditation fails in its process to improve the fundamental mission of higher education institutions – faculty teaching and the resultant student learning.

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