Arne Duncan: Accreditors to Receive Greater Scrutiny

Student debt is rising. Graduation rates aren't.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan (Image: File)

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is preparing to unveil a package of proposals aimed at forcing colleges that receive federal money to improve graduation rates and to provide students with job skills.

The proposals will be aimed at accreditors, the not-for-profit agencies that must give their seal of approval so schools can take part in the federal student-loan system. The overhaul effort comes as student debt has climbed to $1.2 trillion, but graduation rates remain not much better than a “coin toss,” Duncan has said.

“We are working on a package of suggestions for accreditation that run a gamut from executive action, through essential regulatory changes, through legislative changes that we put forward,” Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell said Monday in a roundtable discussion with reporters.

The move follows a Wall Street Journal investigation that found that last year alone, the U.S. government sent $16 billion in aid to students at four-year colleges that graduated less than one-third of their students within six years. At 11 accredited colleges, the graduation rate was in the single digits; 20 schools had student-loan default rates of at least 20%.

In July, Duncan cited the Journal article when he telegraphed the administration’s intention to crack down on accreditors.

“Government, at both the federal and state level, along with accreditors and Congress, need to flip the current incentives in higher education,” Duncan said. “In the current system, only students, their families, and taxpayers lose when students don’t succeed. That simply doesn’t make sense.”

The proposals Duncan and Mitchell described on Monday sparked concern among accreditors who worry that by becoming too prescriptive, the administration runs the risk of killing the broad range of education offered by accredited schools. That diversity of mission is one of the great strengths of U.S. higher education, accreditors say.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.