Accreditation and Education. (OP-ED)

Article excerpt

If my e-mail is any measure, many of my friends and acquaintances were incensed at an announcement that an institute devoted to the study of astrology had received accreditation. The original story appeared in the Arizona Star late in August, and was then picked up by Associated Press and National Public Radio's Robert Siegel. Siegel interviewed the institute's founder, Joyce Jensen, for All things Considered. In the brief interview Jensen demonstrated that she knew little about either higher education or history--and that if she read newspapers regularly, she apparently stuck to the astrology columns. Questioned about modern astronomy and Galileo, she became confused. She knew Galileo had gotten into some trouble, but said the "king" had recently pardoned him, which demonstrated that Galileo (and astrology) were right. It was of course the current pope, not some king, who finally removed the Catholic censure of Galileo. More to the point, if Galileo was declared right, that would be good evidence that astrol ogy was wrong.

My point is not to make fun of Joyce Jensen, but rather to gently upbraid my colleagues who responded with such hostility to the news that astrology had won accreditation. They are the naive ones; they still believe in accreditation.

Wherever vocational and professional schools exist, there will be associations around to accredit them. By this means practitioners of innumerable obscure vocations--from teachers of equestrianism to mixers of cement and mixers of drinks (both sometimes called mixologists)--can be certified. The term accrediting has many meanings. While most people associate it with the "rigid" requirements imposed on most colleges or universities by regional accrediting associations, accreditation can also be meaningless--and often is. Everything depends on what group is doing the accrediting.

The association that accredited the astrology institute, the Acerediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT), imposes financial requirements--but no academic requirements--on the schools it accredits.

There are so many different accrediting bodies that there is a national umbrella group for most of them, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CHEA sets minimum financial standards for accrediting associations but not for the curricula that members may accredit. Of course, CHEA membership is not required; any association can claim the right to accredit those among its own members who have paid the necessary fees.

How ubiquitous--and how dilute--has accreditation become? There was once an Association of Unaccredited Schools, but it changed its name and now accredits its members for a fee.

I have many acquaintances who hold advanced degrees from schools that are unaccredited or accredited by dubious organizations. Most of the institutes they attended (some even culling themselves colleges or universities) issue very nice diplomas, much fancier than the ones I received from the University of Chicago. …