Independent accreditors periodically review colleges and universities to ensure their quality. But the process doesn't emphasize outcomes like graduation rates and affordability, and it doesn't prevent the emergence of bad actors like some for-profit colleges. Advanced education has become an all but essential qualification for good-paying jobs, yet many institutions still struggle to graduate students at a reasonable cost and with good employment prospects.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida recently called accreditation a "biased and broken system," noting that the process is controlled largely by traditional two and four-year colleges and universities. But the main problem with accreditation isn't that it prevents innovation, as Rubio argued in a speech outlining his vision for improving access and affordability in higher education. It's that accreditation doesn't provide adequate consumer protection.
Here's how the system currently works: There are 85 independent organizations that accredit colleges and universities, and each sets its own standards. The accreditation process largely depends on self-reporting by institutions, peer review, and evaluations from higher-education experts. Only accredited institutions can receive federal support like financial aid.