Tag Archives: Patrick Henry College

Accreditation nation

Higher education is awash with accrediting agencies, on the institutional level and sometimes on the level of individual programs. Losing one’s accreditation is the kiss of death. Accreditation is a big deal. But here’s one thing I’ve never understood about accrediting bodies: Why do we have them in the first place?

My understanding about accreditation is that it’s roughly analogous to getting a letter of recommendation or a certification — except accreditation is on the institutional level instead of the individual level. You have this body of higher ed people in the accrediting agency, supposedly experienced in how universities and their programs are supposed to operate, and they come in every so often and pore through mounds of collected evidence about how a university does business, and then give a thumbs-up or -down. That way, colleges that are nothing more than diploma mills and are not offering viable academic programming can be distinguished from those that are, and the outside world — for example, the people who employ college graduates — have some sense of what they are getting.

But, two things:

(1) What happens when institutions have viable academic programming but it’s done significantly differently than how the main stream of universities do it, or it’s done from a religious and political standpoint that the experts from the accrediting agency find intolerable? This happened to Patrick Henry College and to King’s College, two relatively new institutions who had to go to court to have their accreditation reinstated, or in PHC’s case revert to a Christian-college-only accrediting body, because accreditation was revoked on the basis of the Christian approach to the curriculum that those colleges employ. How can we be sure that accreditation is not just a political litmus test?

And more practically:

(2) Wouldn’t the free market perform the job that the accrediting agencies are supposedly doing, at much lower cost? If a college produces graduates who are employable and go on to have productive personal and professional lives in the real world, then what difference does it make if it has the stamp of approval of some higher ed bureaucracy? Or conversely, if a university produces graduates who are consistently unemployable or earn a track record for being poor performers on the job, then is the accreditation that the university has earned really worth anything? Why not just dispense with accrediting agencies altogether and let the market decide whether or not the degree is worth the paper it’s printed on?

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Filed under Higher ed, Life in academia

Colleges are neither families nor churches

Patrick Henry College in Virginia has become something of a lightning rod for criticism among higher education types because of its commitment to conservative political and religious principles and because of its high profile. Some of this criticism is perhaps justified, for example the requirement to affirm a literal six-day creation. But say what you want about PHC, you have to like this statement that I found on their web site:

Patrick Henry College is neither a church, nor a family. We are here to support these two institutions in the lives of our students, not supplant either of them.

Our support for the local church begins with both our requirement that students attend a local church on Sunday as well as our purposeful decision to not create our own campus church with its own Sunday services. We support the continuing role of the parents in the lives of our students in ways that are unique. For example, we send a copy of the semester grades to parents (when the student is a financial dependent). We also support the parents’ role in courtship.

Yes. Universities are not families; healthy families do not accept or reject people based on the basis of grades or other performance factors. Neither are they churches, for the same reasons. Conversely, the factors that make a family or church healthy — unconditional acceptance, the absence of performance standards to attain merit, etc. — are precisely those things that make a university unhealthy. Christian colleges tend to be particularly bad at this. At least PHC seems to be getting this right.

And by the way, why do the “progressives” get upset when PHC apparently trains young people for public service in a conservative setting but will go their graves defending Antioch College‘s right to do the same thing from an opposite ideological point of view? (That is, if it weren’t for the fact that Antioch is out of business?)

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Filed under Education, Higher ed