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University Accreditation and the American Council on Education
This paper discusses the role of the American Council on Education (ACE) in affecting the establishment in the 1920s of the first national standards of colleges and universities, which were crucial for the beginning of higher education accreditation in the United States. ACE was founded as a coordinating body for United States voluntary associations of higher education during World War I. After the war, ACE started, as one of its first enterprises, a project to draft national standards for colleges and universities. The key persons in the project were George Frederick Zook, Chief, Division of Higher Education, United States Bureau of Education; Kendric Charles Babcock President, Association of American Universities; and Samuel P. Capen Director, ACE. They collaborated to create eight national standards that mostly employed quantitative indexes, such as “A college should require for graduation the completion of a minimum quantitative requirement of 120 semester hours of credit.” Since ACE was the only national coordinating body of various voluntary associations, “the association of associations,” its member associations had to refer to the standards that ACE created. Thus, ACE exerted enormous influence on each member association’s actual accreditation practices.
At the same time, ACE launched a campaign to eradicate diploma mills. Director Capen, his successor Charles Riborg Mann, and Vice Director David Allan Robertson all were vigilant against the ones that were located in the District of Columbia. Since the District in those days had the loosest incorporation law in the country regarding the establishment of higher education institutions, there were quite a few pseudo-universities there. ACE considered Research University, a new school established by a progressively minded educator, to be a diploma mill. Although Research University’s educational ideals and practices were innovative in their own right, it did not necessarily observe all eight of the national standards that ACE had created. Thus, ACE played a major role in the indictment of Research University and its president. Robertson was also one of the central figures who eventually created an anti-diploma law in the District of Columbia.
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