The federal government doles out roughly $100 billion in student aid each year in the form of Pell grants and subsidized student loans. In order to accept that money from the Department of Education, colleges and universities must receive a stamp of approval from independent, federally recognized accreditors.
Yet while financial aid for students and universities is in demand more than ever – with student debt totaling more than $1.2 trillion and counting – the federal government isn’t doing enough to oversee which schools qualify to receive that money.
That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Government Accountability Office, which flags the Dept. of Education for not properly evaluating the independent accreditors responsible for deciding whether schools should receive accreditation or not.
Right now, these accreditors are more likely to penalize or reward schools based on their financial health, rather than how well their students are performing or how valuable their degrees are when they enter the job market, according to the GAO.
“On average, accreditors were no more likely to issue terminations or probations to schools with weaker student outcomes compared to schools with stronger student outcomes,” the auditors said.
The report suggested that accreditors very rarely yank accreditations from schools. For example, from October 2009 through March 2014, just 66 schools, or less than 1 percent of all schools, lost their accreditations. The majority of those were for-profit schools with financial issues.
This is a problem: The GAO noted that students take on loans to attend accredited schools that in some cases “do not provide a quality education.”
The auditors say the Dept. of Education should ramp up oversight of the accreditors, as well as find “better ways to assess whether creditor standards effectively address academic quality.” They suggest the agency use data to evaluate accreditors’ decisions with student outcomes.
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