Debate over the cost and value of accreditation has been studded with stark anecdotes of million-dollar price tags for the process, which is required for colleges to receive federal student aid. But a new study concludes that the dollar cost is less than half that amount, on average, and varies widely for different kinds of institutions.
The study is a doctoral dissertation by Paul Woolston Jr., director of admissions at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music, who conducted the research while completing his education doctorate at Southern Cal.
Despite widespread discussion of the price of accreditation, there has been precious little research on the real costs, both direct and indirect, to institutions, Mr. Woolston said. So in order to shed some light on the subject, he surveyed the administrators and faculty members who manage the accreditation process at four-year colleges monitored by half of the nation's six regional accreditors—the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. About 35 percent of those surveyed at 982 institutions responded, Mr. Woolston reported.
The study concludes that while the dollar cost of accreditation can be significant, it is nowhere near a million dollars in most cases. On average, doctoral research universities spend an estimated $414,586 over an entire accreditation cycle, which can last seven to 10 years.
Baccalaureate colleges spend an average of about $312,000, and institutions that offer only a professional degree, such as a law or business school, spend about $205,000.
The costs also vary by region, with the highest average cost—$405,000—for institutions in the Southern Association. The average cost for the colleges in the Middle States region was nearly $346,000, and it was about $231,000 for institutions under the Western Association.
Plenty of caveats go with those numbers, said Mr. Woolston, particularly because the vast majority of money reported—at least 70 percent—is estimated for indirect costs, such as the time spent by faculty members in preparing for the accreditation process.
I recently received a letter from the Provost that read:
After my experience with 18 months of meetings, tedious graduate program reviews and angry emails from belligerent professors being reviewed, why wouldn't the opportunity cost of faculty time be the bulk of the costs? I wouldn't consider this a caveat but the major finding from the study.
Please accept my sincere thanks for your membership on the Graduate Education subcommittee for the SACSCOC reaffirmation process ...