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The rising number of students who have dropped out of college saddled with debt has increased pressure on the groups that give colleges the official stamp of approval. Now those accreditation groups are promising to crack down by taking a closer look at graduation rates, loan repayment rates and default rates.
The Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions announced Wednesday that it would “pay special attention” to four-year institutions with graduation rates below 25 percent and two-colleges whose rates dip under 15 percent. Those rates are half the national average for first-time, full-time students.
The Council represents the seven main federally recognized organizations that evaluate higher education institutions and try to ensure that they are meeting a certain standard of academic quality. Together the regional groups oversee more than 2,400 institutions.
Universities and colleges don’t have to be accredited to operate, but without accreditation they lose access to crucial federal funding (such as Pell grants for low-income students) as well as to state financial aid programs. Students usually cannot transfer class credits earned at a non-accredited college.
The group noted, however, that it would not look solely at graduation rates, since the number of students and the transfer rates often affect a college’s numbers. It also criticized the federal government for unreliable data, noting that publicized graduation rates vary up to 25 percent, depending on which federal website a school is listed on.
It has long been difficult to get an accurate measure of how many students who receive Pell grants, which go to low-income students, are getting degrees.
A sizable number of the colleges that will come under review include community colleges, historically black colleges and universities (HCBUs), and other minority-serving institutions, which often enroll a disproportionate number of poor and academically struggling students.
“The intent here is to ensure that each institution – including those serving higher education’s most vulnerable students – is doing its best to promote student success,” said Barbara Brittingham, chair of C-RAC and president of the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, in a press release distributed Tuesday.