New GAO Study on U.S. Accreditation System

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study this week on the U.S. accreditation system, Inside Higher Ed reported. After conducting interviews with experts and a literature review, the GAO identified key strengths within the system, as well as some challenges with regard to oversight of academic quality.

One key strength, according to the study, is the structure of the accreditation system—which includes non-governmental accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Education Department—allows for accreditor reviews that are tailored to various school types, from medical to cosmetology schools. Additionally, 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.

However, the study found downsides to the accreditation system, including the widely held view that accreditors may be hesitant to terminate schools' accreditation when they identify issues because such action would adversely affect schools' eligibility for federal student aid programs, potentially leading to school closure. 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, reported Inside Higher Ed.

The study includes several potential approaches to improve the U.S. accreditation system's oversight of academic quality, 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.


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