Accrediting Organizations Under the Microscope

Seal that says "accredited"

The DOE has released new rules regarding accreditation for colleges and universities.
Image: Shutterstock

The US Department of Education announced today that it will be enacting new transparency measures for accreditation organizations. While they don’t currently have the legal right to actually determine how the accreditation process work, they are concerned with the large variety of methods for accrediting schools—especially since data shows that many accredited schools are actually the poorest performing schools in the country.

For-profit colleges in particular care a lot about becoming accredited because that’s how they become eligible to receive government funding. However, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that accreditation doesn’t necessarily mean quality when it comes to schools.

“Accreditation is the key to the castle for accessing the spigot of federal financial aid. It’s supposed to signify that a program provides a quality education for its students,” explained Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. However, he adds, “too often the accreditation means nothing.”

The new rules from the Department of Education will require accreditors to submit the letters they send to colleges and universities when the schools are put on probation. This will allow more transparency in the accreditation process, which is extremely fragmented right now. There are 52 separate accreditation agencies recognized by the DOE—so “accreditation” can mean a lot of different things depending on which organization is providing it. Without more oversight from the DOE, it will remain impossible for prospective students to determine just what the “accreditation” of potential schools actually means in terms of performance and student support.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is of particular note, since it’s the body that accredited the now-bankrupt for-profit Corinthian schools, which received full accreditation despite the evidence that they weren’t up to par when it came to the quality of their education. Half of the Corinthian schools rank in the bottom third of the nation in terms of students’ future earnings, and ¾ are in the bottom third in terms of repaying student loans.

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