Durbin, Warren, Schatz Introduce Bill To Reform College Accreditation And Strengthen Accountability For Students And Taxpayers

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act of 2016 (AREAA), which seeks to reduce student debt and protect students and taxpayers by reforming higher education accreditation and strengthening the Department of Education’s (ED) ability to hold accreditors accountable.

College accreditation is the cornerstone of the nation's higher education quality assurance system, with accreditors acting as a gatekeeper to tens of billions of dollars a year in federal student aid. But a lack of accountability and oversight have allowed poor performing and even fraudulent colleges to continue to operate and to receive federal student loan dollars at the expense of students and taxpayers. Both Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech remained accredited when they recently filed for bankruptcy. AREAA would rebuild our college quality assurance system with stronger accountability to ensure that the federal government's growing investment in higher education actually helps students access a quality, affordable education.

“We should be able to count on federally recognized accreditation to guarantee a basic level of quality when it comes to the education offered by schools.  Unfortunately accreditation as a whole has failed that mission in recent years.  Time and again, accreditors have stood by - ignoring clear warning signs - while for-profit schools have lured students into taking on huge debt for an education that is essentially worthless when it comes to them being able to find a job,” said Durbin. “We can't continue to trust taxpayer dollars and students' futures to a system that allowed Corinthian and ITT Tech to remain accredited to the day they went bankrupt.  It is time for real accountability for accreditors.”

AREAA would refocus the priority of accreditation on how colleges are serving their students, requiring accreditors to consider student outcomes as well as cleaning-up conflicts of interest between accreditors and colleges. The legislation would require accreditors to quickly respond to government investigations or lawsuits accusing schools of fraud or instability to protect students, would add more transparency around accreditation decisions, and would improve the Education Department's ability to hold poor-performing accreditors accountability.   

Senator Durbin has been an outspoken advocate for reform of the college accreditation system. In 2011, Durbin called on sixty college and university accreditors to explain how they were ensuring high academic standards and the maximum return on American taxpayers’ investment. Earlier this year, he urged the Department of Education to revoke federal recognition of Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Universities (ACICS), which accredited the now-defunct Corinthian, ITT Tech, and Westwood College. Yesterday, ED announced it would terminate ACICS for its failure to set high quality standards and protect federal student aid dollars.