Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Improving Federal Accountability for Higher Education
Press Release

RELEASE: Improving Federal Accountability for Higher Education

Washington, D.C. — Each year, the U.S. Department of Education disburses $125 billion in federal financial aid to help students access college. But more must be done to hold colleges accountable to ensure that these investments and the students that receive them reach their full potential.

Today, the Center for American Progress released a report and fact sheet examining the efficacy of the Education Department’s current system of accountability for financial aid, finding that very few institutions face consequences from federal accountability when aid is misspent or abused.

The report found that only 252 of more than 6,000 higher education institutions in the federal student aid programs failed one of three main federal accountability measures, and those institutions received $1.7 billion in financial aid—a bit more than 1 percent of the funds spent in this program each year. The actual amount of aid dollars at stake is even lower, because most measures require multiple failures before terminating aid access. Seeing so few institutions affected by accountability measures is particularly troubling, given national challenges around low completion rates, persistent attainment gaps, and worrisome student loan outcomes.

“We must do a better job ensuring federal accountability for higher education pushes institutions to better serve students,” said Ben Miller, senior director of Postsecondary Education at CAP and author of the report. “Accountability must tackle pressing issues such as completion and equity, but also encourage improvement. Failing to get this right will continue to allow too many schools to fall through the cracks, hurting students as a result.”

The report lays out seven principals for improving future accountability efforts:

  • Target accountability to the most concerning problems.
  • Recognize the different roles for gatekeeping, ongoing monitoring, and outcomes accountability.
  • Encourage improvement.
  • Use flexible, enforceable consequences.
  • Align consequences with accountability measures.
  • Provide rewards and consequences.
  • Differentiate accountability.

Click here to read the fact sheet.

Click here to read the full report.

For more information or to speak to an expert on this topic, please contact Kyle Epstein at [email protected] or 202.481.8137.