Accreditors Without Borders

American accrediting agencies are increasingly evaluating foreign colleges and programs that are unattached to U.S. institutions. Proponents of the exportation of U.S. accreditation argue that it has a role to play in improving the quality of universities and professional programs worldwide and in promoting the mobility of students and faculty; critics contend that, without care, the accreditors could find themselves in a compromising position.

They argue that the expansion of U.S. accreditation abroad is neocolonial on the one hand and hazardous on the other: can standards built on values underlying American higher education be upheld with integrity in other cultural contexts?

But if it is neocolonial, it’s also, in the words of the higher education scholar Philip G. Altbach, “a neocolonialism of the willing”: by all accounts there is substantial demand for American accreditation on the part of foreign institutions, which see it as a way to distinguish their programs and attract students interested in coming to the U.S. for graduate school or work. Interest is coming not only from institutions like the American Universities of Beirut or Sharjah (both of which are accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education), but also from non-American-style, non-English-speaking institutions such as the Universidad Mayor, in Chile (also Middle States-accredited).

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