This morning the accreditation team was in town for the local community college. As a local politician (and long time member of the college's Foundation board) I was invited to the community interview part. Pretty much the standard thing.
College accreditation is one of those "voluntary" things that really isn't. Almost all federal monies and scholarships require the accreditation. So I have a deep suspicion that there are very few colleges who choose to not be accredited and make any claims to legitimacy.
Most of the accreditation process is verification - does the institution really have the facilities and faculty they claim, do they offer the programs they claim, etc. But another part is advice for improvement. After all, accreditation committees are fountains of experienced experts that make recommendations for future improvement. Sort of like having a team of expert hired guns available for free. And a final part is "challenges" in which the evaluators point out things that they think must be fixed if the institution is to remain viable.
The process is well organized and useful to the institution and to the consumer. After all, you really would like some assurance that juniors education is really what it claimed to be. But the community interview part always makes me wonder about some things. Do community members (who are invited by the college to be interviewed by the accreditation team) ever really stand up and rip into the college? It doesn't seem like it would happen often, does it? How bad would the college's relations with the local community have to be to cause that kind of a rift. And how insane would the community members have to be to down-mark one of the prime economic engines in their community? In every such meeting I have been a part of, the hard part is to get the community members to stop gushing forth on how good the college is for the community. I suspect that this is even more prevalent is a rural area like this where the college is a major community icon.
In my discussion with the leader of the accreditation team after the interview, I asked him if he ever ran into the rabid anti-college community faction during these reviews. He surprised me greatly when he said that it happened from time to time. Sort of like shooting your own foot off. Really makes you wonder at times, doesn't it. Were the community invites issued by someone at the college with an axe to grind? Was it a case of bad student/townie interactions? Or are there just a whole lot of insane people running loose out there?