There is clearly good education and bad education—and I think we should do everything we can to rid ourselves of the bad stuff. But in my view, many of the standards and accreditation practices around higher education institutionalize some really egregious, outmoded practices.
I’ve worked in dozens of universities in my quest to find a good one, and have found that administrators and accreditors share a common background: they are not particularly great teachers or innovative thinkers. They end up in these jobs because it is one way to make some extra money and control their own sphere of influence. They are good preservers and systematisers – they like stability. And part of stability is not allowing anything new into the system that will destroy current practices or hierarchy—anything that threatens them.
While employers tell us they want graduates who are more flexible and able to deal with ambiguity, accreditors and administrators require carefully defined courses and grading criteria. One university administrator suggested that a very demanding (i.e. “hard grading”) course I taught should be changed to pass-fail grading. They were afraid that university students (and their parents!) would administratively challenge the grades (making a lot of extra work for them) and that accreditors would hear complaints and ask that the course be re-evaluated.
For-profit educators have been the biggest threats to “old school” education. All I really know about the University of Phoenix, I know through several friends who proudly received degrees or took courses there. One who was working on a PhD at Columbia took a University of Phoenix course in an area not taught at Columbia and described it as the “best, most useful course” he took in his doctoral studies. But for-profit schools also did some pretty bad things along the way, making it easy for accreditors to throw out the baby with some pretty dirty bath water.
It has been a mystery to me for years how administrators and accreditors are able to evaluate any innovative methods of education, as this is not what they do. They are not visionary; they do not yearn for a better system; they do not even teach, research, or communicate at competitive levels inside the current system.
Decisions about the future of education—what and who is allowed into the system—is currently left to a bunch of people who cannot even deliver the past of education particularly well. Look to any time in history when a gild became particularly strong and you’ll find that progress in that industry ground to a halt.
For new ideas—like interactive learning experiences and human-focussed classrooms—to flourish, we need to promote a new type of administration and accreditation; one advocating a mission of innovation, not stability.