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Accreditation in the Early 20th Century
Compared to the Joke of Today

By Professor Doom

I was checking some sources while I was following the money in higher education in my last essay, and came upon a few tidbits worth sharing.

Most awesome was an article that listed requirements for accreditation over 100 years ago. Much as it’s fascinating to see tests from the 19th and early 20th century to see how much schools have changed, I find the this from North Central accrediting (there are numerous accrediting bodies, but they are all fairly similar) to be amazing:

1. follow respectable entrance requirements

2. offer courses selected from the classics

3. ensure a minimum of eight departments headed by full-time

instructors, each possessing at least a master’s degree

4. provide a good library

5. properly prepare students for post-graduate study

6. have a maximum class size of 30

7. have a productive endowment of at least $200,000.

Let’s go over this line by line, comparing with the institutions I’m directly and personally familiar with, to see how much has changed in a century. For the bureaucracy wonks, I have a line by line analysis of what accreditation is today…dozens of pages of pure bureaucracy with very little relating to education, unlike the above, which is brief and mostly about education.

1. follow respectable entrance requirements

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when an accredited school had to have entrance requirements. Now, the vast majority of schools have no entrance requirements, and it’s quite common to have coursework appropriate for an 8 year old, as I’ve discussed elsewhere.

I hate to sound elitist, but entrance exams need to come back. Too many ruthless administrators are taking way too much advantage of people that have no interest in education, and have no understanding of what it means to take on student debt. Too many dubious fields like Education have blossomed, and thrive primarily by scooping up the suckers that are taken in by administrators.

Imagine if instead people that wanted to learn something, wanted to work hard, and could show that they could study and learn, were the only ones on campus. Bogus courses would be laughed off campus, bogus departments wouldn’t exist, and sniveling sycophant faculty that were created by such might be in smaller quantity. Perhaps I’m wrong…but has the open system of today really created a much more educated populace, or a much more indebted populace?

What of those that can’t pass the exams? Well, this is just accreditation, there was a time not that long ago that a non-accredited school could still be a good school, and a school that focuses on high school and lower material probably shouldn’t claim to be “higher education” anyway. I imagine with the fat government loan checks out of the picture, such schools would actually be cheaper…and a serious student can always just go the many (thousands?) free sites on the internet that have such information.

2. offer courses selected from the classics

I had to laugh reading this, since institutions no longer practice these ideas. This is from such a bygone era. It used to be, students had to learn Latin in higher education (heck, they used to need to learn it in school). I grant that Latin isn’t nearly as critical to the modern world as a few centuries ago, and so it didn’t bother me when students were instead forced to learn any foreign language in lieu of Latin. That’s been removed, too, replaced by a Mickey Mouse “computer skills” course where students “learn” the skills they already know from using a cell phone…that’s been removed, too (computers being so expensive), and now students don’t have to learn anything about any other culture or language.

There are a few holdout courses, though “classic” math has been reduced to 10th grade math, and most “classic” courses in other departments have similarly minimal requirements, like “Western Civilization”, a course that’s gone from “read a few books” in a semester to “read a few chapters.” The problem, of course, is educators no longer decide what is “classic.” Instead, administrators make such decisions. So, now it’s “classic” to have “Gender Studies” courses and “White People are Evil” courses, and “Home Economics” courses.

Is it really so elitist to think that scholars should determine what is scholarly, instead of administrators?

3. ensure a minimum of eight departments headed by full-time

instructors, each possessing at least a master’s degree

This one is another big laugh for me, as an institution I was at for a decade never did have any departments at all, instead an administrator with no scholarly skills determined what the “departments” did. Those days are gone, at least for newer institutions.

The first advantage to having departments is it’s much harder for an incoming faculty to be completely bogus, to know nothing, to be a fraud, and operate in a department with legitimate scholars. Administrators honestly seem to prefer frauds, and I would often have to work with ignorant “scholars” that clearly did not know what they were supposedly teaching.

The second advantage is a department won’t have bogus courses; in that institution with the non-scholar admin, the students got their accredited 2 year degrees…but when they went to a four year school, they learned that it would take another 4 years to get a 4 year degree—nothing in the 2 year degree was of sufficient scholarly merit to apply. A department run by people that are expert in their field (instead of filled with cherry-picked educationists by admin) can stop that from happening.

The reference to a master’s degree, as opposed to a doctorate, is again from the olden days, where you didn’t have to have a research degree to teach. Nowadays, there are way too many doctorates, in every field, so it’s no surprise that now it’s common to require a doctorate. I totally respect research degrees, but for jobs-based degrees, the requirements should probably allow for people with actual industry experience as well as (if not superior to) pure research.

4. provide a good library

This, too, is funny, but only because my school was forced to buy a bunch of books to satisfy the “good library” clause that’s still in accreditation. In days of yore, absolutely, a big collection of books was rather important for learning.

Nowadays? Not so much. You’re reading this, so you know about the internet, and you can buy a book and have it cheaply delivered to your door in a few days, tops (except for stupid-expensive textbooks, but that’s a scam for another day)…it was a very different world a century ago, and having a big library on campus made much sense back then. It’s hysterical that the only clause that could have been removed from accreditation hasn’t been removed, even as so many of the others are gone now.

Halfway through the list, and it’s all howlers from the perspective of an educator in the 21st century—alas, not howlers because the ideas from a century ago were so stupid and ignorant, but because they’re generally good ideas that have been abandoned in favor of the stupid and ignorant system of today.

I’ll address the others next time. Until then, consider that the American higher education system was the envy of the world in the 20th century…are we sure that getting rid of these simple rules and replacing them with massive bureaucratic requirements is such a good idea?



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