MAINT STREET: General Accountability Office Rips ED on Oversight of National Accreditation Agencies

Career College Central Summary:

  • A December report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a non-partisan congressional watchdog agency, criticized National Accreditation agencies for making few useful distinctions between colleges with weak student outcomes and their counterparts with high outcomes assessment. 
  • There are eight Regional Accreditation agencies that govern mainly academically-oriented, non-profit schools. Five National Accreditation agencies govern for-profit and career colleges and distance learning vendors. A loss of accreditation is essentially the death knell for any college, since maintaining accreditation is a requirement for federal funding. Outcomes—and outcome assessments—have become an important benchmark in determining a school’s success or failure, with failure increasingly linked to student loan defaults—and the number of defaults have been on the rise. 
  • The GAO analyzed data between October 2009 and March 2014, when accreditors placed 984 sanctions against 621 colleges that did not satisfy these standards and terminated 66. The GAO used data from the Department of Education’s (ED) Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to examine sanctioned schools for loan default rates, dropout rates, retention and graduation rates in determining academic quality.
  • For-profit colleges and the national accreditors that evaluate them lie at the heart of the problem. The GAO found that in general, accreditors of for-profit colleges were more likely to sanction on colleges with student outcomes in the top 25% than they were to terminate or suspend colleges in the bottom quarter —a counter-intuitive outcome that’s hard to figure. 
  • The GAO’s evaluation of the quality of ED’s oversight of higher education was decidedly negative — criticism that comes from a federal agency — and was endorsed by a congressman with a decades-long record as an advocate for students. Retiring California Democrat George Miller, a critic of for-profit colleges, echoed the concerns of the report, which he requested when he was ranking member on the House Committee on Education. 
  • “Congress has tasked accreditors with evaluating the academic strength of colleges and universities, and the American people expect accreditors to hold colleges accountable for student success,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). “This report raises serious questions about whether we are watching the watchdogs closely enough.” 

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