Accreditation: Quality Control in
Higher Distance Education
Amy Kirle Lezberg
University of Qatar
Unlike most other countries in the world, the United States has never had a ministry of higher education directly regulating the quality of its postsecondary institutions of learning; such control is not among the powers granted to the federal government by the U. S. Constitution. Instead, in order to operate legally, institutions must, like other business, be licensed, with each of the 50 individual states setting rules governing the institutions incorporated within its borders. Rooted in the differing political philosophies of each state, the rules they have established range from the almost nonexistent to others that are quite stringent (Bear & Bear, 1998). For the most part, such rules describe the minima necessary for initiating an institution of higher education rather than set effectiveness criteria for the instruction offered. Because of the variety of requirements, private accreditation associations, devoted to both the evaluation of current performance and the encouragement of continuing improvement, have for more than a hundred years provided the primary mechanism for assuring employers, governments, and, most importantly, students and their families that degree-granting institutions were offering acceptable levels of education (Young, Chambers, & Kells, 1983).
The most widely accepted and respected of these bodies in the United States are the following six regional associations: the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, The Southern Association of Schools and Colleges, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (see www.chea.org for information about these associations). These currently accredit about 3,500 institutions of higher education (i.e., those offering academic degrees from the associate to the doctorate level). The range of institutions encompasses public and private institutions, research universities and