Asking Too Much (and Too Little) of Accreditors

When it comes to accreditation, what hath Congress wrought? Does even Congress know?

These questions come to mind as Senators prepare for more hearings on the for-profit higher education sector. According to news reports, they are enraged by for-profit colleges’ abusive business practices. They blame accreditors for allowing fraud to flourish and for permitting institutions to persuade unprepared students to take out federally financed student loans. These students then predictably drop out, burdened by debt.

Senators want to know why accreditors haven’t protected the public interest. And their frustration is hardly surprising, given some of what we’ve seen. But are the accreditors to blame? Hardly. Congress shouldn’t blame accreditors: it should blame itself. The existing accreditation system has neither ensured quality nor ferreted out fraud. Why? Because Congress didn’t want it to.

If Congress truly wants to protect the public interest, it needs to create a system that ensures real accountability.

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