Keep an eye on college accreditation agencies

The Obama administration recently issued a handful of executive orders pertaining to the accreditation of universities. Primarily attributed to the acts committed by the for-profit educational giant Corinthian Colleges—wherein the company lied to its students at Everett College, Heald College and more about job placement and graduation rates—these initiatives are designed to make sure the credibility of college accreditors is valid. If a student does not act carefully, they run the risk of attending a school that offers a sub-par education that seriously hinders their post-collegiate prospects.

But sometimes a student cannot act their best when they have a difficult time accessing information about the schools they seek. This is why the administration, spearheaded by the Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, took to posting information online about the accreditation statuses of schools and plans to continually expand. A consolidated, thorough website is necessary, considering all the options to choose from. Transparency is paramount. 

Especially relevant is the boom in online courses, with approximately 32 percent of students taking at least one online class as of 2011. Despite all its efficiency, the Internet can be a haven for dubious material and schooling is no stranger to this. 

A problem with keeping track of what schools are legitimate or not is the standard to which they are held in order to be accredited. There is no uniformity in how accreditors assess a school’s facilities, teaching qualities, etc., leading to relatively subjective measures that may not hold up in comparison to other schools. It is up to the accreditation agency to set the prerequisites, which are then reviewed by an advisory board at the Department of Education in order to receive access to financial aid funds. However, it is the accreditation agency and not the department that does the actual auditing of a school, enabling private companies to use their discretion over what meets the mark, for better or for worse. 

These things considered, a reasonable conclusion is there should be an all-encompassing, national standard of accreditation determined by the Department of Education to prevent discrepancies. The outsourcing to private companies leads to subjective, variegated results, and if the government were to continue their relations with these companies, a co-auditor from the Department would likely help enforce consistency. In an increasingly competitive vocational world, it is imperative students are privy to the standards colleges are held to and the government is doing a sufficient job to maintain them.