New GAO Report on Accreditation System

Inside Higher Ed.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office this week released a study on the U.S. accreditation system.

After conducting interviews with experts and a literature review, the GAO said the accreditation system has some key strengths, including reviews that are specifically tailored to various types of colleges and programs. And the peer-review approach, which features oversight by faculty members and administrators from other colleges, “offers the relevant expertise to assess academic quality and provide schools with feedback for improvement,” according to the study.

However, the study found downsides to the accreditation system, including the widely held view that accreditors are hesitant to terminate a college’s accreditation — even when serious problems are found — because of worries about what will happen if the college loses its access to federal financial aid as a result. The GAO also identified challenges with how accreditors can effectively define and measure academic quality as well as concerns about whether the agencies provide useful information to students about academic quality.

Several possible fixes to the accreditation system were discussed in the study, including:

  • A modification of oversight roles and responsibilities;
  • Strengthening communication and transparency;
  • Using academic quality measures and expanding accreditation options; and
  • The establishment of new entities to set standards for assessing colleges’ academic quality.