The White House announced Friday a series of measures aimed at improving the college accreditation process that enables schools to receive billions in federal aid each year. On the heels of the shutdown of the for-profit education corporation Corinthian Colleges Inc., the Education Department has decided to publish the standards of the accreditors, release key statistics about the various institutions and spread the news when schools miss the mark.
"We’re using the tools of transparency to provide everyone with more information and, quite frankly, to say to accreditors we’re paying attention to this with renewed vigor and that it’s going to matter,” Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell said on a recent call with media, Inside Higher Ed reported.
The Education Department lists on its website 15 regional and national accreditation agencies recognized by outgoing Secretary Arne Duncan. Most of the groups' endorsements can be used in deciding whether schools receive Title IV student financial aid funds, which total about $150 billion annually.
But lawmakers, as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, have recently requested more information about the accrediting process, partly inspired by the Obama administration's crackdown on allegedly predatory for-profit colleges. Corinthian, which left 16,000 students in the lurch when it suddenly closed in April amid multiple investigations for fraud, was accredited until its shutdown. As a result, Duncan has called the agencies "watchdogs that don't bite."
Where Congress has asked for little accountability of our higher ed system, accreditors have provided little. It's time to change that.
— Arne Duncan (@arneduncan) November 6, 2015
Going forward, the department plans to release the benchmarks accreditors are using to evaluate the schools so they can't make up their own, low-bar measurements. It released a new website allowing students and families to check the accreditation status of various institutions and will begin publishing letters from agencies spelling out what schools are doing wrong.
The Education Department also called upon Congress to establish a standardized set of definitions used to measure schools and give it the authority to enforce student achievement standards, among other recommendations. "To be clear, we will not be able to make accreditation do the work it needs to do for student and taxpayers without Congress stepping up," Mitchell said, according to U.S. News and World Report.