Who makes sure your college is actually worth the loans you’re taking out?

By Michael Itzkowitz

20 million college students are making a major investment at an American college or university because they want to get a good job and make it rain.

In addition to what students pay, the federal government kicks in a lot, too, in student loans.

So with all that money, who’s actually keeping an eye on colleges and universities to make sure they’re doing a good job?

In the United States, that’s the job of accrediting agencies. You’ve never heard of them but they are supposed to make sure that colleges are ACTUALLY preparing their students to be successful later on in life.

They are also supposed to protect the $150 billion in federal grants and loans these institutions get every year.

Yeah. $150 billion.

As they are making sure a college is on the up and up, the law says these agencies have to look at things like how sweet the colleges facilities are,

or how long their programs are,

and whether or not students file complaints.

Which is cool.

Except they don’t look at whether or not students actually graduate or, you know, if they can get a job when they’re done. Because NBD, right?

So even if 9 out of 10 students don’t graduate from a university or most of their alumni can’t get a job that they can actually live on (and pay off those loans), colleges can keep their accreditation.

And your money.

And the federal government’s money. (Which is also your money.)

Right now, 135 schools graduate less than 10% of first-time, full-time students. Those schools enroll over 775,000 students.

And there are still over 3,500 accredited colleges where most of their students earn still earn less than someone who only graduated from high school.

Is it ok that we also accredit almost 50 schools where over 9 out of 10 students are having trouble paying down their loans?

Right now, the accreditation system is pretty lackluster when it comes to protecting students and the government from spending a large of money at schools and programs that aren’t really helping kids get ahead. Sometimes they help, but sometimes, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Outcomes matter for students. College students who don’t maintain a certain grade point average or attendance risk losing scholarship funds. Why aren’t colleges also held accountable for how well they educate students?

We’ve got to make the system work better to protect our taxpayer dollars and, most importantly, ensure students who choose to further their education are getting a good value for their investment.


Michael Itzkowitz is a senior policy advisor for higher education at Third Way and the former Director of the College Scorecard at the U.S. Department of Education. Learn more about steps that we can take to fix the college accreditation process and address the quality crisis in America’s institutions of higher education:

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