Starting a new college

Some friends (tied of being adjuncts) joked around about starting their own small college. We wondered what it would take to get even a small academy off the ground. It seems the legal and regulatory issues and certification would be nearly insurmountable. Have many small, private colleges (not on-line only) started in recent years (either two-year or four-year)?

I don’t know the answer to your question; but here are a couple relatively recent postings from the “Confessions of a Community College Dean” blog, about the difficulty of starting a new college:
Barriers to Entry
Hofstadter’s Bees

Olin College of Engineering started planning how to get established in 1997, and took in its first class in 2002. It was not accredited until 2006; students who graduated earlier had accreditation for their degrees applied retroactively. As an incentive, those attending before accreditation did not have to pay tuition.

The one takeaway from that is that you neat a boatload of money to get started: setting up facilities, getting accreditation, and running the college until you get accreditation (it looks like you actually have to graduate a class to get it, which means you need students willing to take the risk the whole thing collapses).

The main thing a college needs is accreditation.

The big one in the US in having a regional accreditation. That pretty much makes it a “real” college. If it doesn’t have regional accreditation, be warned.

The next lower level is one of the national accreditations. Since they usually don’t qualify for regional accreditation, most for-profit and iffier places go for this. Quite easy to get. A couple of these qualify the school for federal student loans. Which means they can draw in students with big promises, get their tuition money and profit ensues. (It is rather unfortunate that the feds don’t have higher standards for accreditation. Too many people end up with huge debt and little to show for it.)

But some places don’t even qualify for this low level. For example, there a several accreditation organizations for religious colleges. Nice sounding names. But not worth anything.

The latter two types generally cannot get their credits transferred to the first type.

In addition, in certain disciplines like Engineering, additional accreditation is required.

Starting a college is easy. With a few hundred k$ you could even get national accreditation and start “taking in” students. Getting regional accreditation is a whole 'nother thing.

This is one of the reasons why I’m so in favor of Competency Based Education, the more modern incarnation of Outcome Based Education (OBE). Yes, I know there are problems with competency-based degrees, but there are problems with all forms of education, no school is perfect.

With a CBE based model, you could have accredited schools that grant degrees not based on completing required coursework, but on demonstrating knowledge and achievement, regardless of whether you accomplished it in the hallowed halls of Hahvahd or in Uncle Bill’s basement. Students could be evaluated multiple ways. Lower level requirements could be evaluated by exam. Take a test, you pass. Higher level and independent research requirements could be evaluated by portfolio.

Instead of grad students needing to schmooze the right professor etc., they could study at BJ’s Discount Teachery and Schoolatorium (since 2014). They learn the art of writing an original thesis from instructors now glad to make a living wage from a school that isn’t throwing money at new stadiums and self-aggrandizement. Then, the students apply for Competency-Based degrees from State U or some other accredited institution.

What happens, you ask, if BJ’s turns out to be a crap school (e.g. they don’t teach the material well, or their standards are too low), which is why schools need to be accredited in the first place? Well, the students then will mostly fail their Competency Based evaluations at the accredited institution and won’t get their degrees! BJ’s better fix their standards right away or the faculty will soon be leaving to start Aunt Sue’s Down-Home Country Schoolhouse for Particle Physics and Advanced Cyberentomology!

Here’s a thread where I proposed something very similar and answered some potential objections to the scenario.