Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Education Department Needs Stronger Rules for Accreditors (David Halperin, Republic Report)

 [Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Republic Report.] 

I’m scheduled to offer a brief public comment at today’s session of the Department of Education’s negotiating rulemaking meetings, where representatives of various higher education constituencies have come together to debate new proposed regulations governing issues including distance education, state government authorization of schools, and standards for the private accrediting bodies that oversee schools.  My comment will address accreditation, and this is what I plan to say:

Many students say a school’s status as accredited, and resulting seal of approval and aid from the Department, are the reason they enrolled. Because accreditors are gatekeepers for federal aid, their oversight is critical to prevent students and taxpayers from getting ripped off by poor quality, overpriced schools.

So it’s good that the Department has started to incorporate concerns about bad behaving schools in its reviews of accreditors, starting with ACICS, which accredited some of the worst.

But ACCSC also has tolerated years of abuses – at CEHE, Vatterot, and elsewhere. Data shows many ACCSC schools have left students worse off than when they started.  

SACS has permitted blatant abuses at Keiser University. WASC has allowed misconduct at Ashford. COE at Florida Career College.

The Department has started to ask those accreditors questions. But, under current rules, it hasn’t taken firm action, and predatory behavior is ongoing.

The rules also have done little to address rampant abuses at schools overseen by Higher Learning Commission.

HLC has long tolerated predatory conduct at Walden, DeVry, EDMC, Kaplan, Ashford, Grand Canyon, University of Phoenix, and the Perdoceo schools. 

Perdoceo in recent years paid 500 million dollars to settle with 48 states and 30 million to settle with the FTC over deceptive practices. Numerous Perdoceo employees have told the Department that company recruiters continue to make misleading sales pitches

As to the University of Phoenix, in 2015 the Pentagon briefly banned it from recruiting service members based on evidence of violations. In 2019, Phoenix agreed to pay 191 million to resolve FTC charges it ran ads falsely suggesting ties to major employers. Last year Phoenix was again running deceptive ads, this time falsely implying it is a state school.

If Phoenix tells such brazen falsehoods in the open, imagine what its recruiters tell students one on one.  The school’s graduation rate is 14 percent. 

Many victims are low income. These schools should not be accredited. They should not get taxpayer dollars. But under current rules, the abuses continue. 

Last year HLC renewed accreditations of the University of Phoenix and Perdoceo’s Colorado Tech, each for a full 10 years.  

And the Department in turn renewed HLC for a full five years. 

The system isn’t working.

Accreditors have often failed as gatekeepers of integrity and quality. The proposed regulations are a start to fixing the problem.