The New York Times editorial board just put the for-profit college industry and Congress on notice

College lecture hallFlickr / Velkr0College students at for-profit educators ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges were stranded after the closures.

The New York Times editorial board published a blunt condemnation of the role that both college accreditors and Congress have played in allowing subpar schools to hurt students and shoulder taxpayers with the burden of repaying defrauded students’ loans.

Accreditation agencies are essentially gatekeepers of federal dollars. They review courses and programs to ensure a school meets their educational standards, which then makes a school eligible to accept federal student aid.

In the editorial, published in Thursday’s edition, the board wrote that the higher education accreditation system, as created by Congress, produces schools with low standards and useless degrees.

The board wrote:

“The system created by Congress to determine eligibility for federal dollars virtually guarantees that a portion of this money will be wasted by schools that have abysmally low standards, high dropout rates and, in many cases, saddle students with huge debt in exchange for useless degrees. Congress can remedy this problem by changing the way schools are accredited and by giving the Department of Education more say in the process.”

Congress intended to protect the accreditation process from undue interference from the Department of Education, but the law, as currently enacted, limits the ED’s power too much, The Times wrote.

The editorial comes amid tenuous times for accrediting agencies, specifically the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). At the end of September, the ED voted to remove its recognition as a national accreditor.

ACICS acted as accreditor for ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian College — which both abruptly closed in the past year and a half after federal and state investigations into fraud. The closures impacted more than 50,000 students, and experts estimate taxpayers will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars to repay defrauded students.

The Times’ board postured that more needs to be done — and sooner — to ensure that college accreditors hold schools they oversee to high standards.

The board wrote:

“The system is clearly in need of repair. A bill pending in the Senate would be a start. It proposes several changes in the law, most important a provision that would require the Education Department to write standards dealing with graduation rates, job placement rates, loan repayment rates and other criteria that accrediting organisations would have to apply when evaluating colleges.”

The stakes truly are high for the millions of college students around the nation. Removing ACICS’ accreditation status alone stands to impact 245 schools
and more than 600,000 students.

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