Is College Accreditation About to Be Disrupted?

U.S. Chamber of Commerce urges employers to set up their own certification system

U.S-chamber-commerce-logoThe U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business organization, is the latest major player to recommend steps that could lead to a radical restructuring of higher education in America. The Chamber’s nonprofit affiliate issued a report last week arguing that employers should establish their own “talent supplier recognition and certification system”—essentially an alternative to the traditional college and university accreditation system.

[Related: Obama Administration to Hold Accreditors Accountable]

It’s hardly surprising that frustrated employers are looking to create an alternative to accreditation as a quality measure of the skills of college graduates. Accreditation has been attacked as a barrier to innovation and improvement in higher education. As the report notes, a 2013 Gallup/Lumina survey documents the profound disconnect in views of quality. Just 11% of business leaders believe college graduates are properly equipped for entering the workforce—while 96% of college chief academic officers feel they turn out work-ready graduates. The Chamber of Commerce Foundation report is correct in criticizing accreditation as “operated by higher education for higher education” rather than as a quality measurement in tune with the needs of employers and would-be employees.

The report argues that higher education should use the principles of supply chain management, with colleges and employers working together to develop performance measures to assure that graduates have the workforce skills they need.

Some employers have already started to partner with colleges, particularly those in the emerging online sector, to create courses, and even the equivalent of majors, that more closely fit the requirements of the modern workforce.

For instance, College for America, the online offshoot of the accredited Southern New Hampshire University, partners with McDonald’s, the Gap, Anthem Blue Cross, and other firms to develop inexpensive degrees designed for future employees.

Other employers are pushing the envelope further by designing groups of courses, often in conjunction with upstart online providers or Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, which are the equivalent of college majors and are certified by the employers themselves.

Read more at Brookings.