In a new report, the United States Government Accountability Office discovered that between October 2009 and March 2014, schools with lower academic outcomes were no more likely to have been sanctioned by accreditors than schools that had higher student outcomes.
The report, Education Should Strengthen Oversight of Schools and Accreditors, looked at data from the last four-and-a-half years, finding that accreditors, independent agencies recognized by the Department of Education, punished 8% of schools who did not meet accreditation standards. Accreditation was terminated for 1% of accredited schools, which meant those schools no longer had access to federal student aid funds.
Data has been collected and released from October 2009 to the most recent release date of March 2014. In that time, the GAO has found that accreditors have issued at least 984 sanctions to 621 schools, with 66 schools losing their accreditation. In the most recent full year of data, 2012, the GAO discovered that accreditors were more likely to list financial reasons rather than academic problems for the sanctions.
Accreditors are required to be officially recognized by the Department of Education as being able to reliably assess academic quality. Schools need to be certified by accreditors, which demonstrates both academic and financial standards in order to receive federal student aid funds.
The report was conducted in an effort to discover which schools were more likely to sanctioned.
The report examined school sanctions by accreditors for non-compliance with standards; the likelihood of accreditors to sanction a school who demonstrates low student outcomes or financial abilities; and how the sanction information is used by Education for oversight.
In addition to analyzing the most recent sanction data, researchers also reviewed education documents, federal laws and regulations, prior research concerning student outcomes and also interviewed a number of individuals who represent accreditors, higher education associations, schools and the Department of Education.
The GAO completed its report with a recommendation that the DOE determine more effective ways to find whether or not accreditor standards are effective in discovering academic quality. They also suggest that the DOE use the sanction information in order to better oversee schools and accreditors.
In a letter written as a reply to the study, the DOE said:
“The Department is giving in-depth attention to this area as Congress considers the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). We also share GAO’s interest in maximizing the use of available data to inform decision making, and are committed to identifying ways to use data about and from accreditors in our oversight of postsecondary institutions and agencies. As part of our efforts, we intend to provide a copy of GAO’s final report to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, an advisory committee of experts appointed by the Department and both houses of Congress, for comment and as a catalyst for recommendations in these areas.”