Colleges need to be accredited for their students to receive federal financial aid, but there is growing evidence that the quality of accreditors varies considerably. States should encourage their colleges to use high quality accreditors and discourage or prevent them from using low quality accreditors.

Key Points

  • Accreditors play a key role in determining whether a college’s students can receive Pell grants and student loans.
  • Historically, a lack of outcome metrics made evaluating accreditor performance difficult.
  • But new data from the U.S. Department of Education allows for the evaluation of accreditor performance by examining the outcomes of the college programs they accredit.
  • Using a metric that determines whether accreditors approve programs that leave their students with excessive student loan debt, the Higher Learning Commission stands out as the best regional accreditor, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools stands out as the worst.
  • States should encourage their colleges to use high-performing accreditors and should discourage or forbid the use of poorly performing accreditors.