What Assurance Does Office of Education's Eligibility Process Provide?

HRD-78-120: Published: Jan 17, 1979. Publicly Released: Jan 17, 1979.

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The process for determining which post secondary schools are eligible to apply to participate in the Office of Education's student loan and grant programs has not precluded schools from engaging in potentially abusive practices to attract and retain students receiving such assistance.

The Office of Education's eligibility process has relied heavily on private accrediting associations and, to a lesser degree, state authorities to guard against potential education consumer abuses. However, neither the states nor the accrediting associations were doing enough to warrant such reliance. Many states lacked the authority and resources to do the job and, like the Office of Education, often relied on accrediting associations. However, accrediting associations, which are private and do not receive direct federal support, do not consider education consumer protection to be an essential part of the accreditation process. Potential abusive practices at the schools visited by GAO included: (1) questionable admission and grading policies; (2) false or misleading advertising; (3) lack of information for students or prospective students on attrition and graduate placements; (4) little or no refunds of tuition or dormitory charges to students who withdraw before or soon after the school term begins; (5) failure to offer listed courses; and (6) use of inadequately trained teachers.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should clarify through legislation what can or should be required of accrediting associations in the school eligibility process before the accrediting associations can be recognized. GAO also recommends that Congress amend several sections of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to require the Commissioner of Education to develop regulations which define more specifically "good standings" and "satisfactory progress" to ensure that participating students and schools are not abusing federal financial aid.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) should: (1) resolve the fundamental differences in views on the roles of the Office of Education, states, and accrediting associations in the eligibility process; (2) improve public awareness of the accreditation process and what can and should be expected of it; (3) improve the Office of Education's evaluation of accrediting associations in approving their petitions for recognition; and (4) emphasize the use of the authority in the Education Amendments of 1976 to deal with the potential abuses covered by that authority. HEW should also ensure that schools: (1) have admission policies which consider student potential to benefit; (2) provide students who enroll in programs preparing them for gainful employment with information on how successful program graduates have been in obtaining jobs or in obtaining licenses or other documents needed to obtain jobs; and (3) have fair and equitable refund policies for withdrawing students.

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