Federal Agency Finds Plenty of Fault With Oversight of Higher Education

Three days before Christmas, the Government Accountability Office put big lumps of coal in the stockings of accreditors and the U.S. Department of Education.

The federal office released a report criticizing accrediting agencies’ efforts to oversee academic quality at colleges, and faulting the Education Department for not increasing its own scrutiny of colleges that are under accreditors’ sanctions.

Colleges must be accredited by a federally recognized accreditor in order to receive federal student aid.

The office focused on the finding that student outcomes have little to do with whether or not a college has been penalized. “From October 2009 through March 2014, schools with weaker student outcomes were, on average, no more likely to have been sanctioned by accreditors than schools with stronger student outcomes,” said the report, which was requested by U.S. Rep. George Miller, a Democrat of California.

While academic quality is meant to be a key measure of accreditation, the GAO found that financial problems were more likely to trigger accreditors’ scrutiny. “With regard to academic quality, accreditors GAO interviewed reported that this area is difficult to oversee, saying that few quantifiable indicators exist,” the report said.

In taking the Education Department to task, the report noted that while the department is forbidden to set accreditation standards, it should be using information from accreditors to provide more oversight.

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