An appeal against academic protectionism

Continuing my series on US higher education policy, I now turn to the matter of transfer credit policy. I offer this simple thesis, higher education policy proposition #10:

Government policy should support student mobility in terms of transfer credit and degree level articulation. 

I’ve lost count of how many letters and emails I have sent over the years appealing for ABHE member college students and graduates to receive fair and equitable credit transfer or degree recognition. Most of them do not even receive the courtesy of a reply.

The few lower level student records office reviewers who do reply typically insist they are simply applying a faculty-approved institutional policy that strictly limits transfer credit or degree recognition to documented course work from regionally accredited institutions. “Don’t shoot, I’m just the messenger, right?”

This state of affairs amounts to a travesty for two reasons:

(a) it is patently prejudicial and unfair; and

(b) it represents unwise public policy and inefficient public stewardship.

Accrediting agencies in the US conform to one of three types, divided into two main categories:


Regional – accredit entire institutions within a circumscribed US geographical region;

National – accredit entire institutions of a specific type throughout the US (you guessed it, ABHE is one of these)


Accredit programs of study or units of institutions related to a specific academic or professional discipline (for example, medicine or law or teacher education)

ABHE has been subjected to the identical US Department of Education recognition review as any of the regional agencies, recognition that has been continuously maintained since the government first began relying on accreditation for Title IV financial aid eligibility in 1952. There is no reasonable basis upon which to deem ABHE accreditation in any way inferior to that of the regional agencies.

Down with pecking orders

But in the real world, the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (CRAC) works hard to ensure that the public believes we would be better served if there were only regional accreditation. In the credit marketplace, regional accreditation is the coin of the realm and vigorous efforts to control the currency are pursued at the institutional and legislative levels. A few states have now managed to impose legislation that privileges regional accreditation in terms of state funding eligibility and credit transfer.

Such policies cannot be justified by valid measures of academic quality and student learning outcomes. Study after study has corroborated the findings of my 1988 doctoral dissertation, Student Outcomes in General Education: A Comparative Study of Bible College Quality. When you compare apples to apples, student learning outcomes at ABHE colleges average equal or superior to regionally accredited counterparts.

I concur with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s (CHEA) Transfer and the Public Interest position paper maintaining that decisions about transfer credit should be under the jurisdiction of institutions. For that reason, I do not favor a government-mandated “free trade” policy when it comes to accreditation. Nevertheless, it seems to me CRAC accreditors are begging for a governmental imposition of transfer credit policy parameters when they persistently undermine or at least tacitly work against fair, student mobility-fostering transfer credit policy.

Waste not

The taxpayer’s investment in both so-called “public” and “independent” (or private) higher education is substantial. And, in my opinion, it should be. In addition to state appropriations and federal grants and loans, colleges and universities enjoy many tax advantages and receive other types of funding and subsidies. Taxpayers are entitled to demand their money’s worth.

In a time when student inter-institutional mobility is higher than ever it makes no sense to support a system in which legitimate and degree-applicable credit a student has earned in one institution is refused by another. Not only is such refusal bad for students, it is a waste of taxpayer money. Why should Sally be required to repeat courses where there is appropriate evidence of learning achievement simply because her previous institution wasn’t regionally accredited?

Learning is learning. In fact, public policy is increasingly awakening to the fact that legitimate postsecondary-level learning may be documented to have been gained by experience, non-formal instruction, and a variety of other means. Present transfer credit policies and practices largely deny this reality and obstruct the mobility juggernaut. I believe it is not only unfair but ultimately foolish for a college (or accrediting agency) to cling to the Euro when Bitcoin takes over the market. A word to the wise …

When will we realize that “different” does not mean inferior? More on that thought in my next post. Stay with me.


Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …

Does the Purdue-Kaplan Deal Matter for Your Institution?

You are aware that Purdue University has acquired for-profit education provider Kaplan, right? This development has been scorned by some and applauded by others. Is it a harbinger of things to come or a fiasco waiting to happen? In this essay, Melanie Ko discusses how this development is an expression of five higher education macro-trends you do well to attend to.

Why are Evangelicals So Ambivalent About Environmentalism?

Andrew Spencer’s decades-spanning analysis of why evangelicals’ historic biblically-grounded pro-environment sensibilities have not substantially allied them with environmental activists makes sense to me. I encourage you to read it and, where appropriate, use the essay as a biblical worldview discussion-starter with your students.