Center for American Progress

RELEASE: The U.S. Department of Education Is Failing to Provide Sufficient Oversight of College Accreditors
Press Release

RELEASE: The U.S. Department of Education Is Failing to Provide Sufficient Oversight of College Accreditors

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new report looking at how effectively the U.S. Department of Education monitors the agencies tasked with overseeing America’s higher education programs. The report includes an overview and history of what rules Congress put in place for the department to monitor these agencies, how the Ddepartment is falling short, and what can be done to strengthen these requirements going forward.

The report comes as the Department of Education is in the process of finalizing rules to deregulate accreditation, which would result in the further unraveling of federal oversight of college quality, and as concerns mount about the outcomes produced by America’s colleges—including higher debt levels, poor completion rates, fraud, low repayment, and high default rates.

Key findings from the report include:

  • The Department of Education’s Accreditation Group has limited capacity to conduct in-depth reviews of the nation’s 62 accrediting agencies that must undergo review every five years.
  • The recognition process is overly bureaucratic and focuses on minor shortcomings at the expense of larger substantive issues; furthermore, the department relies too much on limited information provided by accreditors.
  • The department fails to routinely conduct regular monitoring outside of the recognition process that takes place every five years.
  • The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) is not empowered to influence the recognition process or individual agency reviews.

Policy recommendations in the report include:

  • Focusing the Department of Education’s efforts on institutional accreditors that serve as gatekeepers to the vast majority of taxpayer funds and federal student aid
  • Conducting thorough, open-ended investigations that take into account all pertinent information at the department’s disposal—particularly data on student outcomes, risk factors such as weak institutional finances, lawsuits, and investigations
  • Making better use of the department’s ability to limit agency recognition
  • Better incorporating NACIQI into the federal recognition process and requiring that its recommendations operate as a floor that the department must honor in final decisions

“This report shows that the Trump administration’s efforts to deregulate oversight of America’s college accrediting agencies would water down already insufficient rules and hurt the department’s ability to improve student outcomes and protect students and taxpayers,” said Antoinette Flores, associate director for Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress.

Please click here to read “The Unwatched Watchdogs” by Antoinette Flores.

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Colin Seeberger at cseeberger@americanprogress.org or 202-741-6292.