Schatz, Warren, and Durbin Introduce Bill to Reform Higher Education Accreditation and Strengthen Accountability for Students and Taxpayers

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) introduced the Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act of 2016 (AREAA). The legislation would take steps to reduce student debt and to protect students and taxpayers by reforming higher education accreditation and strengthening the Education Department's (ED) ability to hold accreditors accountable. AREAA would rebuild our 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.

College accreditation is the cornerstone of the nation's higher education quality assurance system, and accreditors serve as a critical gatekeeper to tens of billions of dollars a year in federal student aid. But a lack of accountability and oversight have allowed poor performing and even fraudulent colleges to continue to operate and to receive federal student loan dollars at the expense of students and taxpayers. Both Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech remained accredited when they recently filed for bankruptcy.

“A higher education is supposed to help people move up the economic ladder, but too many students are being left deep in debt and without a degree,” said Senator Schatz.  “Our college accreditation system should be working to weed out bad schools, but as we've seen with the recent closures of fraudulent institutions that remained accredited up until the day they closed, that just isn't happening.  For the protection of students and taxpayers, our bill will put commonsense standards in place to improve the quality of higher education and hold accreditors accountable for failing schools.”

“Accrediting agencies are supposed to make sure students get a good education and ensure colleges aren't cheating students while sucking down taxpayer money. But right now the accreditation system is broken,” Senator Warren said. “This bill gives the Education Department more tools to hold accreditors accountable, increases accreditors' focus on student outcomes and affordability, and requires accreditors to respond when there is evidence of colleges committing fraud.”

“We should be able to count on federally recognized accreditation to guarantee a basic level of quality when it comes to the education offered by schools.  Unfortunately accreditation as a whole has failed that mission in recent years.  Time and again, accreditors have stood by - ignoring clear warning signs - while for-profit schools have lured students into taking on huge debt for an education that is essentially worthless when it comes to them being able to find a job.  We can't continue to trust taxpayer dollars and students' futures to a system that allowed Corinthian and ITT Tech to remain accredited to the day they went bankrupt.  It is time for real accountability for accreditors,” said Senator Durbin.

AREAA would refocus the priority of accreditation on how colleges are serving their students, requiring accreditors to consider student outcomes as well as cleaning-up conflicts of interest between accreditors and colleges. The legislation would require accreditors to quickly respond to government investigations or lawsuits accusing schools of fraud or instability to protect students, would add more transparency around accreditation decisions, and would improve the Education Department's ability to hold poor-performing accreditors accountability.    

The text of the senators' bill is available here, and a fact sheet is available here.