Accreditation is simply the process a college goes through to be recognized as a competent and credible school. Recognized by whom? Well, that’s debatable, but recognized primarily by the Department of Education.
The Department of Education monitors and recognizes certain accrediting agencies, and these agencies in turn recognize colleges they believe are competent enough to educate us. Colleges need accreditation so they can receive federal funding and be able to transfer and receive credits from other schools. Accreditation is important, as it implies a college went through a serious of examinations to deem the school as a reliable educator.
The problem is that the accrediting agencies are left to make their own decisions about ‘minimum standards.’ So, just because a college has accreditation doesn’t necessarily make it a good place to attend. You’ll have to look at the college’s accreditation carefully to determine if the college meets your standards and is worth your financial commitment. You’ll want to find out who accredits the college, what other colleges are accredited by that agency, and what the accreditor’s minimum standards are. You might not agree, ethically, with the minimum standards, or you may think those minimum standards are too low to hold a college reasonably accountable.
What if I told you that your college of choice is accredited by Chewbacca. Would you want to enroll there? Probably not. However, it may be best to have the college monitored by Chewbacca than some of the accrediting agencies out there. The vast majority of prospective students don’t factor accreditation into their college decision. I suggest that you do. You just might find yourself at a college being monitored from a galaxy far, far away.
An example of accreditation gone wrong is the Higher Learning Commission’s (HLC) failure to monitor its minimum standards at one of its colleges. A few years back, American Intercontinental University (AIU), a for-profit college, was placed on probation for falsifying information about graduating students. At that time, AIU was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Since the probationary status enforced by SACS was too much of a nuisance, AIU changed addresses and were accepted by the Higher Learning Commission. American Intercontinental no longer had to deal with the accountability enforced by SACS. They were welcomed by HLC with open arms.
Many of the colleges HLC accredits are for-profit and open enrollment, which means they willingly accept any person who has a pulse and eligible to receive federal funding. Since many of these HLC colleges are for-profit, and not necessarily ‘for-student’, many unethical business practices occur – like enrolling people who are unable to read or write, the mentally handicapped, people battling sever learning disabilities, vulnerable veterans, and the homeless. Does HLC stop its for-profit colleges from readily enrolling at-risk individuals? Nope! They want what the disadvantaged student has access to, which is federal aid – in other words, business comes before ethics in the world of for-profit education.
The Higher Learning Commission allows for-profit colleges to treat people like assets for financial gain, not like people who deserve a proper education. Who would want to attend a college accredited by HLC? However, many people do attend HLC schools, because they do not look into the accrediting agency. Would you want to attend a college that profits from enrolling severely disabled students without having the resources in place to help them succeed?
Despite what I just mentioned about HLC, the agency does place colleges on probation when needed, but HLC doesn’t immediately pull accreditation. The enrollment machine is allowed to continue admitting disadvantaged students by selling them unrealistic dreams.