Democrat Seeks Review of Federal Oversight of Colleges

November 17, 2015

The top Democrat on a Senate investigatory panel is calling on Congress’s investigative arm to look into how the U.S. Department of Education oversees colleges and universities.

Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri on Monday sent a letter asking the Government Accountability Office to review how the Education Department green-lights colleges to participate in federal student aid programs as well as how effectively department regulators uncover problems with colleges.

McCaskill, who is the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, asked the GAO to examine the rigor of the department’s approval process for colleges and the extent to which the department relies on accreditors and states to oversee and monitor problems.

Her letter comes several weeks after she and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the Republican chair of the investigatory subcommittee, requested a trove of information from accrediting agencies as part of an inquiry into the role accreditors play in assessing the quality and financial health of postsecondary institutions.

The GAO last year issued a report that recommended the Education Department step up its oversight of colleges and accrediting agencies. It found, among other things, that national accreditors were no more likely to sanction poor-performing colleges than they were those with strong student outcomes.

The Education Department has a staff of 232 employees who are charged with overseeing and monitoring colleges, according to a September report by the department’s inspector general. That report found that department regulators in some cases were not properly conducting audits of colleges.

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