Graduation Year

2023

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree

Master of Science

Program

Education

Program Director

Jennifer Lucko, PhD

First Reader

Matthew E. Davis, PhD

Second Reader

Bradley Van Alstyne

Abstract

Time-series data analysis demonstrates that the number of new colleges has dropped off gradually since its peak in the 1960s, and precipitously after the 1990s. The total number of new colleges is severely depressed, and among new colleges, religious, for-profit, and public colleges have started at a rate of 5x the number of private, secular, and non-profit ones. Interviews with contemporary secular, non-profit college founders and accreditation experts suggest that accreditation is the primary barrier to starting a new college. If we view higher education as an oligopoly or “cold cartel,” it explains the gradually falling quality and precipitously rising costs of higher education in the last seventy years. The economic theory of oligopolies suggests that lowering the barriers to entry for non-profit colleges would be an effective solution for solving the crises of quality, affordability, and accessibility facing higher education. Using the theoretical framework of organized irresponsibility, the researcher develops an explanation for legacy colleges’ and accreditors’ lack of responsibility and leadership, resistance to reform, and allegiance to the degrading status quo. The researcher uncovers three ways to remove the barriers to qualified professionals starting new colleges: 1) accreditor reform, 2) removing private accreditation from their gatekeeper role for federal Title IV funding and promoting state licensing in its place, or 3) founding new accreditors who will accredit new entrants. Findings suggest that the rigor of state licensing has improved over the last 40 years removing the original impetus to have accreditation in the first place.

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