New America Foundation’s Higher Ed Watch recently blogged about a Senate bill introduced by Senator Harkin that would apparently remove federal assistance to for-profit schools whose programs are not accredited. For many professions in many states only applicants from accredited programs may take the relevant entrance test for their profession. This gives the accrediting bodies enormous power to protect existing programs and to restrict the flow of new people into the profession.
Because of this it is very likely that the bill focuses on the symptom rather than the cause of the problem. I agree that students should be told about the importance of accreditation and whether the program they are applying for is accredited. But the deeper question is whether accreditation bodies are unfairly limiting the number of programs and thus new job entrants in order to protect existing programs and practitioners.
There are some good indications that they are. One way to find out would be to let students from all programs take the qualifying test. If a high number of students from nonaccredited schools pass, that would be a good indication that the accreditation bodies are unjustly limiting the upward mobility of workers. The licensing test is, after all supposed to measure whether a particular person is qualified or not. If the test is accurate, accrediting standards seem redundant.
By focusing solely on the private schools regulators miss the important role of accrediting standards in artificially limiting the number of people allowed to practice any profession. The effect is to limit the upward mobility of those at the bottom and to impose a tax on consumers in the form of higher fees for those who are allowed to practice.