Former Senator Hank Brown has joined the ranks of those — led first by Reed Fawell here in Bacon’s Rebellion — who question whether the Southern Association of Colleges (SACS) accrediting agency has any business instructing the University of Virginia on the fine points of university governance. In today’s Wall Street Journal, he reinforces several points that Fawell made in his three-column treatment here. Writes Brown:
Accreditors are supposed to protect students and taxpayers by ensuring that federal aid flows only to schools with “educational quality.” But accreditors increasingly interfere in institutional decision-making and use their bully authority to tie the hands of colleges and universities. Frankly, there’s nothing more intimidating to schools—public or private—than the threat of losing accreditation and with it federal financial aid. That’s why most presidents and trustees quietly accede to accreditors’ demands.
When it comes to accreditors’ real assignment—ensuring educational quality—the record is dismal. According to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, conducted by the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the literacy of college-educated citizens dropped significantly between 1992 and 2003. Of college graduates, only 31% were classified as proficient in reading compared with 40% in 1992.
Academic rigor has also declined, evidenced by rampant grade inflation. Fully 43% of all grades at four-year universities today are As. Given this low bar, it is perhaps not surprising that the National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that a majority of four-year college graduates—yes, college graduates—were unable to satisfactorily compare two editorials or compute and compare the cost per ounce of food items. Is it any wonder that employers consistently report that college graduates lack the skills and knowledge needed for America to compete in the global work force?
Under the accreditors’ watch, student-loan debt in the United States has topped a trillion dollars, exceeding that of credit-card debt. That’s outrageous. Yet taxpayer dollars are still on the line, as the student-loan default rate climbs, and students continue to borrow and borrow. This serves neither the interests of taxpayers nor students. By almost any measure, the accreditation system designed to protect the taxpayer and ensure quality is a public policy and regulatory failure.
Only 31% of college-educated adults are proficient in reading? Holy F******* S***! This country is worse off than I thought — and that’s saying something because I haven’t exactly been Mr. Happy these days!
Thousands of college students are graduating (or all-too-often failing to graduate) from college without mastering basic proficiencies — and they’re racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student debt in the process. Why is this not a national scandal? And why the heck is SACS meddling with the UVa board of trustees instead of focusing on its real job?