College Degrees — A Way around the College Cartel

4 mins read


Going to college isn’t about learning, but about credentialing — for most students anyway. They take a smattering of courses, the content of which they quickly forget, have fun, and blow through a great amount of money. At the end, a school gives them a piece of paper attesting to their “education.”

To many employers, that paper is now “required.” They seldom care about the content of the individual’s supposed studies, but merely that he made it through.  What if there were a better device for signaling trainability without the huge cost?

In today’s Martin Center article, emeritus professor Bill McMillan argues in favor of a college version of the high-school GED.

What is getting in the way of that is mainly our college-accreditation system, a group of agencies that get to say if an institution is good enough to grant degrees. Of them, McMillan writes:

Those agencies judge whether a college, to which parents pay a king’s ransom to educate their children, is legitimate. Though accreditors will approve the occasional online program, it must be connected to or owned by traditional colleges, which charge correspondingly high tuition. Why? Because the people who judge the legitimacy of educational programs are themselves from other academic institutions. The justification is that only academic experts should judge academic institutions, but the effect is to keep non-traditional competitors outside the moat. The accreditors are insiders guarding the gates to higher education. They are part of a trust or a cartel.

Busting a cartel is a legitimate governmental function, he says, and the accreditation cartel needs busting.

That’s where the Department of Education comes in.

McMillan continues: 

The Department could develop a standardized exam that covers core knowledge expected for a traditional bachelor’s degree and specialized knowledge expected in a major field of study, such as business administration, psychology, computer science, or history. Passing this assessment would equate to a bachelor’s degree, regardless of whether the student enrolled at a college. The Department of Education could require universities to accept this bachelor’s-by-exam (BEx) as equivalent to a traditional bachelor’s degree for admission to graduate and professional programs. If not, the Department could use its power to pressure colleges or encourage employers to see the BEx as legitimate.

His idea seems worth trying.  It would puncture the higher-ed bubble.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.





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