Schatz, Durbin, Warren, DeLauro Renew Calls For Higher Education Accreditation Reform Following New GAO Report

Report Found Serious Flaws in Current Accreditation System - Lawmakers Set To Reintroduce Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) have renewed calls for higher education accreditation reform following a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found the process was in need of improvement.

According to education experts surveyed by GAO, the current accreditation system does not provide effective oversight of academic quality, which is the primary purpose of accreditation. The report identifies several weaknesses in the accreditation system, including:

  • Accreditors are slow to revoke accreditations when they identify problems;
  • The accreditation system creates conflicts of interest due to the fact that accreditors are funded and run by the institutions they accredit;
  • Accreditors do not make use of student outcomes data in assessing a school’s academic quality;
  • The accreditation system does not provide students with useful information about the academic quality of accredited institutions.

“This new report confirms what we’ve known for years: the college accreditation system is failing our students and in need of major reform,” said Senator Schatz. “Bad schools should not leave students deep in debt and without a useful degree—especially not on the federal government’s watch. Our bill will put commonsense standards in place to improve the quality of higher education and hold accreditors accountable.”

“For too long our accreditation system in the United States has enabled predatory for-profit colleges to access billions in federal taxpayer funded student financial aid while providing students with poor quality education.  The fact that Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech were accredited to the day they declared bankruptcy is ‘Exhibit A’.  Accreditation reform must be a part of any debate in Congress to reauthorize the Higher Education Act,” said Senator Durbin.

“Accrediting agencies are supposed to make sure students get a good education, and protect taxpayer dollars from lousy schools. But as this report highlights, our accreditation system is clearly broken,” Senator Warren said. “That’s why I introduced the Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act—to hold accreditors more accountable and to increase accreditors' focus on how well colleges are serving their students. I look forward to reintroducing this legislation in the coming weeks, and working to include it in any reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.”

“Students, their families, and the federal government spend billions annually to help students get a college degree at an accredited college or university. We all rely upon the accreditation process to ensure that our nation’s higher education institutions give their students a high quality education. Yet, today’s GAO report reveals that there are few incentives for accreditors to hold schools accountable against fraud. This is deeply troubling. We must fix this broken system to hold accreditors accountable to measurable outcomes—such as graduation rates, retention rates, and licensure exam passage rates—to ensure their evaluations are meaningful,” said Representative DeLauro.

In response to the report, the lawmakers announced their plan to reintroduce the Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act, legislation that would directly address some of the issues raised in the GAO report. The legislation would rebuild the college quality assurance system with stronger accountability to ensure that the federal government's growing investment in higher education actually helps students access a quality, affordable education.

The legislation would:

  • Require accreditors to use student outcome data to evaluate colleges;
  • Strengthen consumer protections by requiring accreditors to respond quickly to investigations related to fraud;
  • Increase transparency and the information provided to students and families;
  • Clean up conflicts-of-interest in college accreditation between accreditors and colleges they accredit;
  • Add new tools for holding accreditors accountable when they fail to safeguard students from poor quality or predatory schools.