Unfortunately due to some strange Internet issue, I wasn’t able to watch the live or archived version of today’s House hearing on accreditation and program length and so I can’t comment specifically on what was said. But what strikes me while re-reading the various submitted statements is how it seems like there really are two distinct issues at play here.
The first is the issue of credit hour, program length, and their definitions. I’ll be the first to admit that’s a highly technical issue that requires walking a fine line so that you have a proper standard but also leave room for innovation. For example, a lot of the interesting remedial work done by schools in Tennessee can have credit hour complications because those projects allow students to complete individual modules, rather than whole semester-long courses. I agree that’s a fascinating issue going forward and one that I’m sure will be addressed.
But that’s not really the issue at heart with the scathing Inspector General’s report (PDF) about courses being given too much credit at American InterContinental University. One can make an argument that the accreditation process almost worked in this issue. The accreditor clearly reviewed the courses enough to realize that a 9 credit course should really only have been worth about 3 credits. They found the mistake and identified it, calling the whole thing “egregious.” If accreditation is supposed to review standards and ensure quality, that seems to have been fine.
Instead, the issue is that the accreditation process basically walked up to the line of action and then backed down. Rather than taking action against what appears to be some egregious policies, the accreditor allowed for a minor rap on the knuckles and a visit or two. It didn’t do anything about the fact that inflated course credits would have resulted in overcharging of the federal student aid programs.
Clearly that’s insufficient. Even the NCAA acts in the face of egregious penalties. And that’s what ultimately must be addressed. We can and should debate technical definitions, but clearly there need to be better ways to spur accreditors to take real and meaningful action.