Snapshot of Academic Legitimacy Positions

I enjoy posting to various forums that cover distance learning and academic legitimacy. Different forums on this subject attract people with different perspectives, some where the dominant view is that only regional accreditation is good enough (“RA or no way”), and others where most people believe that so long as a program is operating legally, it’s okay.

I participate mostly on forums that tend toward the former position, but as I’ve thought about these issues, and that thinking has evolved over time, I thought I’d offer a snapshot of what I think now. I’ve changed my mind about some things, so this may differ from some things I’ve written in the past. I may change my mind again, so this may differ from some things I’ll write in the future. Still, here goes:

  1. Regional accreditation is not the only legitimate sort. There’s nothing wrong with the CHEA approved national (including faith-based) accreditors. There are also institutions that are only state approved (i.e., unaccredited) that are legitimate as well. All other things being equal, it’s better to have credentials from a regionally accredited institution than a nationally accredited or unaccredited one because of perceptions in the marketplace. It’s rarely that simple, however, in that all other things are rarely equal. I’ve had the opportunity to practice what I’m preaching here, in that last year I convinced the administration at Southeastern University to switch from a policy of only accepting regionally accredited transfer credit to also accepting nationally accredited transfer credit.
  2. At the same time, I don’t think it should be a federal requirement that all institutions accredited by a CHEA approved agency should have to accept all credit from all others. This isn’t because I think that nationally accredited institutions are bad, but because I don’t think that’s any of Uncle Sam’s business.
  3. Proprietary institutions are not inherently worse than non-profit or public ones. However, since many people perceive that they are, it makes their credentials less valuable, and all other things being equal, credentials from a non-profit or public institution are better to have on one’s resume. (In this case, all other things often are reasonably equal, outside of specializations like test piloting, I can’t think of a program offered by a proprietary school that’s not offered by a public school at the same price or less.)
  4. Just because another country’s Ministry of Education approves of an institution in their country doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. This is the GAAP theory of international education, and while it’s a reasonable rule of thumb, it’s the start of the process, not the end of it. At the same time I’ve seen some people respond to universities from small and/or poor countries with kneejerk skepticism, and I find that’s unwarranted.
  5. About a year ago, I wrote the following throwaway comment on a forum:

    “If I were one of those lucky/smart guys who had a lot of money and not enough to do with it, I think I’d start a Center for Academic Credential Integrity and hire a few people to do nothing but scout out those who have bogus credentials and inform local media and board of trustees of the scandals in their midst.”

    In retrospect, this is one of the more obnoxious things I’ve ever said, and I withdraw it. In reality, I wouldn’t do any such thing.

So that’s where I stand at this point.

3 Comments

  1. Comment by Jonathan:

    If the above was one of the most obnoxious things you’ve ever said, you don’t have much to worry about. Any enterprising journalist in any given subject’s locality or field would be proud to bring out the same situations, and justly, and it would be their job, but by being so public the fallout would tend to be messier than what you’d had in mind.

    I’m impressed by your example of *drumroll* Educational Leadership and Change at Southeastern. Bravo. It was the right thing to do.

  2. Comment by Steve Foerster:

    I suppose it’s always possible that others might remember more obnoxious statements of mine than I do. :-) But thanks for the kind words.

  3. Comment by Shona:

    Very good points Steve; and kudos to you on highlighting something that you said in the past that was stated before you know what you know now (& pointing out that it was flawed).

    When I was applying to MBA programs, I was quite hung-up on the whole AACSB accreditation thing. I went on to enroll in an AACSB program; and while I am pleased with my decision in that no one can ever use the accreditation thing against me (or my degree); I will stop short at saying that AACSB is a mark of quality. To me, this is an unsettling statement to make, because I do feel that business schools to need some seal of quality. I know from first-hand experience that not all MBA programs are created equally. However there are some very good non-AACSB programs, and some bad AACSB programs (“good” and “bad” being subjective of course). What it comes down to is a difference in resources…not educational or program quality. I’ve learned that from my time working at a public state university — where I’ve seen first hand what is involved in the accreditation process (lots and lots of manpower and paperwork).

    I’ve never enrolled at a for-profit school; but I have seen that they offer programs and learning formats that are not always available at non-profit schools. This habit of making for-profit schools out to be inferior by default is really a shame. It encourages stagnation and mediocrity in the non-profit institutions of higher education and makes for an uneven playing field in competitiveness. And the losers in the end are mostly the students.

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