Toward Institutional Autonomy or Nationalization? A Case Study of the Federal Role in U.S. Higher Education Accreditation




Matthews, Leah K.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The centerpiece of the United States government’s commitment to assuring that more Americans enroll in college and earn a degree is a massive system of federal financial aid that delivers billions of dollars to millions of students enrolled in accredited universities across the country. Since 1952, the federal government has relied upon private accrediting organizations to serve as the gatekeepers for federal aid programs, using accreditation status to determine whether institutional quality is worthy of enrolling students who receive federal aid. This dissertation is a case study of the federal role in higher education accreditation. It examines the changes to federal policies that took place between 1992 and 2008 that related to the Secretary of Education’s criteria for recognizing accrediting organizations and their capacity as gatekeepers of federal financial aid. Data obtained from observations, interviews, and historical documents are analyzed using the policy theories of Deborah Stone and John Kingdon. The findings are pertinent to higher education accreditation and policy research.



Accreditation, Institutional Independence, Higher education, Higher Education Act