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Report on Oversight of College Academic Quality by Higher Education Accreditors

By Stig Leschly
March 1, 2022

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College accreditors are tasked with overseeing the academic quality of US institutions of higher education, and they serve as a gatekeepers of federal financial aid for them.

In the report below, we analyze how often accreditors take action to discipline colleges for poor student outcomes or questionable academic programming. We analyze roughly 40,000 actions taken by accreditors towards colleges over the last decade. For data, we rely on the US Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) and the US Department of Education’s College Scorecard.

Our main finding is that <3% of accreditor actions over the last decade were ones that disciplined an institution for poor outcomes or low-grade academic programming.

Accreditors were no more likely to discipline a college with low graduation rates, high loan default rates or low student earnings than they were to regulate a college with average performance on these metrics.

The seven largest accreditors — which are commonly called ‘regional’ accreditors, which accredit the vast majority of two- and four-year colleges, and which oversee 95% of US college students — were particularly unlikely to take quality-related disciplinary actions towards colleges. Only 1% of their activity disciplined colleges for pool outcomes or academic programming.

More than $100B in federal financial aid goes to colleges that received no quality-related disciplinary actions from accreditors.

Immediately below you can read the full report (embedded) as well as download both the report and our master data file.

We have also created interactive charts from our report which allow you to navigate our findings by accreditor and by college type.

Download Full Report

Download Source Data