Washington, D.C. — A new first-of-its-kind analysis from the Center for American Progress finds that the nation’s 12 major college accrediting agencies—gatekeepers to billions of dollars in federal student aid—do not have the resources or staffing to adequately protect students and taxpayers from poor-quality institutions.
Accreditors have come under fire recently after failed institutions, such as Corinthian Colleges, raked in billions at taxpayer and student expense.
“Failing to invest enough upfront in oversight means that taxpayers end up paying more on the back end to fix problems caused by low-quality colleges. We get what we pay for so if we want accrediting agencies to act as fair arbiters of quality and meaningful safeguards of student aid, we must ensure they have adequate resources to do so,” said Antoinette Flores, Senior Policy Analyst on the Postsecondary Education Policy team at CAP.
The report, which analyzes accreditors’ tax filings and membership dues and fee structures, recommends a number of fixes to help improve overall resources and targeting of resources toward colleges that are most in need of improvement.
The analysis has four main findings:
- There is a large disparity between how much accreditors spend on quality assurance and the amount of money in the federal aid programs. In 2013, the 12 main accreditors spent just $75 million on measuring college quality. For comparison, that same year, Corinthian Colleges raked in $1.3 billion in taxpayer money. That is 17 times what all 12 accreditors in the analysis spent.
- For every $1 accreditors spend on monitoring college quality, they provide colleges access to $1,693 in federal financial aid. With few resources, the agencies rely on small staffs. In 2013, accrediting agencies employed just 391 staff members to oversee nearly 7,000 campuses.
- Low resources and few staff members make accreditors vulnerable when a college challenges their authority in court. For example, in 2013, when the City College of San Francisco sued its accreditor, the agency spent half of all its annual revenue on legal fees.
- Part of the reason for the disparity is that accreditors rely on funding in the form of membership dues and fees from the very institutions they oversee. These charges tend to be small. What many colleges are charged for annual membership fees is often less than what a college charges for one student’s annual tuition. The bulk of the charges bear a minimal relationship to college performance or level of oversight needed.
Click here to read “Getting What We Pay for on Quality Assurance” by Antoinette Flores.
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