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Education Department Database Publishes Accreditation Warnings

The United States Department of Education (ED) last week launched a new database that shows, for the first time, data on accreditation reporting statuses. Now, users can either access the main website or download accreditation data files, search for an institution and view a log of accreditation statuses along with the agency’s decision letter.

The accreditation database is run by the ED’s Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE), which noted that the database is meant to be a public service “without warranty” or endorsement of any kind. With that in mind, the database delivers on the ED’s promise to hold accrediting agencies accountable by ensuring that they enforce standards effectively. Last November, the Obama administration issued guidance to accrediting agencies on establishing the ground rules for the terminology used to report severe actions (i.e. probation and loss of accreditation statuses), requiring agencies to release their decision letters.

“This no small feat,” said Clare McCann, a senior policy analyst with New America's Education Policy Program, in a blog post. McCann noted that most accrediting agencies are “notoriously opaque about the steps they take to oversee and penalize institutions.” The database helps to meet a public expectation of “tracking institutions at risk of closure, identifying concerning finances and trends in enrollment drop-offs, and holding institutions accountable for poor outcomes for their students,” the post stated. Such transparency could prevent institutions from losing their accreditation statuses, like the now-defunct ITT Tech and Corinthian.

A recent report from the Center for American Progress found that 12 of the largest accrediting agencies lack the budgets and staffing necessary to adequately monitor the quality of the colleges they oversee. CAP analyzed tax filings belonging to 12 of the major institutional accrediting agencies, looking at how much they take and spend and comparing the numbers to the federal aid dollars they oversee. CAP found that the agencies altogether have just about $75 million to conduct quality assurance, which “pales in comparison to the amount of money flowing from the U.S. Department of Education,” the report stated.

The new database can act as an extra safeguard for policymakers, state authorizers, licensure bodies, students, parents or anyone with a stake in knowing what risks exist at an institution. For example, last week it published the Distance Education Accrediting Commission’s decision letter to William Loveland College (CO), asking to show “why its accreditation should not be withdrawn” after a number of moves by institution that flagged financial concerns.

To use the database, visit the ED’s Office of Postsecondary Education site.

About the Author

Sri Ravipati is Web producer for THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].

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