The increasing numbers of students opting to enroll with an online learning institution, combined with the continual evolution of the digital age, has prompted professionals within higher education to address the effect of this growth on accreditation.
For centuries, educational accreditation has provided a quality assurance (usually by way of governmental or semi-governmental organizations). If a college or university has an accredited status, the qualifications it awards its students are deemed to be fit and proper by potential employers. Critics of this tradition have pointed to escalating tuition fees as a primary cause for disenfranchising middle-class and working class students. These learners, therefore, may be more likely to pursue a course in distance education as it is more financially viable, despite the fact that some of these universities and colleges possess an unaccredited tag.
At a recent Stanford forum, NYU Education and Sociology professor Richard Arum, even raised the call for the pressing need for educational reform, and for the overall re-appraisal of accreditation standards.
Accreditation has become an international issue. Masters courses in Britain, for example, are deemed invalid for governmental positions in India despite revision pleas from the UK. A Masters qualification carries credence in Europe, but the Association of Indian Universities fails to recognize its value because the Masters is only a one year course, not two. The issue becomes further confused when Masters students find themselves unable to occupy governmental positions in India, yet are welcomed by private employers.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), offered by enterprising tech, mathematics and robotics university Udacity, have gained widespread student popularity, as well as industry recognition, but remain unaccredited. Distance Learning investor Jacqueline Reses told the Wall Street Journal last year that Udacity will struggle to maintain its policy of a free education should they elect to pursue accreditation as: “it is costly to deliver fully accredited education”.
Newly established distance-learning institutions like the American University of London (AUOL) have, like Udacity, experienced issues surrounding accreditation. Unaccredited by one or two states in the US, but recognized in others, AUOL chose a different and less costly route. They offer successful graduates the option of obtaining an Equivalency certificate from a leading professional foreign credential evaluation agency in the US which is recognized by the US Department of Education and the California Department of Education.
See Also: 5 Potential Ways MOOCs Will Evolve
But how are the quality of their programs evaluated? I asked AUOL president professor Michael Nimier recently, who replied that there are “stringent, detailed and tough evaluation processes [in place]” and that these are sent “to around a third of all students at random.” He continued: “We ask them for their opinions on the modules that form part of their courses, request their feedback and for information on how we can improve the quality of our programs. Equally importantly, we also ask them for an appraisal of their supervisor and/or teacher”.
“We receive great positive feedback and this proves our claim that we are ‘accredited by our students’. Our successful graduates progress into respectable careers as most employers now recognize that we offer an excellent education and our degrees have become internationally recognized and accepted by governments, businesses as well as by numerous universities for research, tutoring and advanced study programs.”
There is little doubt that the digital age is raising serious questions about the relevance of traditional and often antiquated accreditation processes but, while reform of the system is long overdue, many questions and doubts still remain unanswered.
By Alan Davidson