America is home to more than 6000 colleges serving about 19M students. College accreditors are tasked with overseeing the academic quality of these colleges and with serving as gatekeepers of federal financial aid for them. We wanted to understand how often accreditors take action to discipline colleges for poor student outcomes or questionable academic programming. We analyzed roughly 40,000 actions taken by accreditors towards colleges over the last decade. For data, we relied on the US Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) and the US Department of Education’s College Scorecard.
Examining accreditor oversight actions from 2012-21, we found:
- <3% of accreditor actions were ones that disciplined a college for poor outcomes or low-grade academic programming;
- Accreditors were no more likely to discipline a college with low graduation rates, high loan default rates or low student earnings than they were to regulate a college with average performance on these metrics.
- The seven largest accreditors — which are commonly called ‘regional’ accreditors, which accredit the vast majority of two- and four-year colleges, and which oversee 95% of US college students — were particularly unlikely to take quality-related disciplinary actions towards colleges. Only 1% of their activity disciplined colleges for pool outcomes or academic programming.
- More than $100B in federal financial aid goes to colleges that received no quality-related disciplinary actions from accreditors.
Immediately below you can read the full report (embedded) as well as download both the report and our master data file.
We have also created interactive charts from our report which allow you to navigate our findings by accreditor and by college type.