Students receive grades from colleges, and colleges receive grades from accreditors. In 2023, over 40 colleges in the U.S. are flunking out.
Educational accreditation, provided by national, regional, and specialized agencies, ensures quality in the country's vast higher education system and helps protect students from attending diploma mills or scam institutions. Accreditation standards evaluate a school's mission, admissions processes, curriculum, administration, and finances.
Accredited colleges, including accredited online schools, have proven their value to a third party. As a result, other schools and employers recognize their credits and degrees, and students may use federal financial aid to attend.
Without accreditation, reputation capsizes, and schools lose the authority to disburse Title IV funds. Often, institutions at risk of losing accreditation already have financial problems. In fact, that's what is typically behind accreditation issues. When access to Title IV funds gets turned off, most schools can't survive.
The reverberating effects closures have on students are prompting the U.S. Education Department to amend regulations on accreditation.
Explore Our Featured Programs
Schools in Danger of Losing Accreditation
School, Location, Accrediting Agency
American Business and Technology University — Saint Joseph, MO (Distance Education Accrediting Commission)
American Institute of Alternative Medicine — Columbus, OH (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
American Institute of Interior Design — Fountain Hills, AZ (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
ASA College — New York City, NY, and Hialeah, FL (Middle States Commission on Higher Education)
Azure College — Fort Lauderdale, FL (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools)
Baton Rouge School of Computers — Baton Rouge, LA (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
Bay State College — Boston, MA (New England Commission of Higher Education)
Bolivar Technical College — Bolivar, MO (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools)
CDA Technical Institute — Jacksonville, FL (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training)
Central Career School — South Plainfield, NJ (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
Cloud County Community College — Concordia and Junction City, KS (Higher Learning Commission)
CollegeAmerica — Phoenix, AZ (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
Construction Training Center — Columbia, SC (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
Eastern Gateway Community College — Steubenville, OH (Higher Learning Commission)
Ezra University — Los Angeles, CA (The Association for Biblical Higher Education, Commission on Accreditation)
Florida Institute of Ultrasound — Pensacola, FL (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools)
Great Lakes Christian College — Lansing, MI (Higher Learning Commission)
Hannibal-LaGrange University — Hannibal, MO (Higher Learning Commission)
Independence University — West Haven, UT (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
Kansas Christian College — Overland Park, KS (The Association for Biblical Higher Education Commission on Accreditation)
Luna Community College — Las Vegas, NM (Higher Learning Commission)
Nazarene Bible College — Colorado Springs, CO (Higher Learning Commission)
New York Institute of Art and Design — New York City, NY (Distance Education Accrediting Commission)
New York Institute of Career Development — New York City, NY (Distance Education Accrediting Commission)
New York Institute of Photography — New York City, NY (Distance Education Accrediting Commission)
North Idaho College — Coeur d'Alene, ID (Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities)
Northcoast Medical Training Academy — Kent, OH (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
Northwestern College — Oak Lawn, IL (Higher Learning Commission)
Nursing Bridges Institute — Houston, TX (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools)
Olivet University — Anza, CA (The Association for Biblical Higher Education Commission on Accreditation)
Pontifical College Josephinum — Columbus, OH (Higher Learning Commission)
Richport Technical College — Baton Rouge, LA (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
Saint Augustine's University — Raleigh, NC (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges)
School for Allied Health Professionals — Arlington, TX (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools)
Selma University — Selma, AL (The Association for Biblical Higher Education Commission on Accreditation)
Southwest Baptist University — Bolivar, MO (Higher Learning Commission)
Stevens-Henager College — Boise, ID (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
Stevens-Henager College — Murray, UT (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
Vista College — Richardson, TX (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
Walnut Hill College — Philadelphia, PA (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
Wheeling University — Wheeling, WV (Higher Learning Commission)
How Does a College Lose Accreditation?
After initially applying for and receiving accreditation, colleges make their case before their accreditors every few years to maintain it. These regular evaluations, which can include both written reports and campus visits, check that standards are being fulfilled.
Schools know the criteria and have multiple-year timelines for working out issues. Well-funded colleges can invest in dedicated staff for the year-round work of maintaining accreditation.
Schools that fail to make the grade are given a warning first, then placed on probation, before finally being given an expiration date for their accreditation. Accrediting agencies must provide written notice of these "adverse actions" to the Education Department and the public.
What Happens When a College Loses Accreditation?
Colleges frequently recover from a warning — and even probation — but not from the actual loss of accreditation. Loss of accreditation is the primary cause of institutional closures, according to a 2022 study by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
In some states, the link between losing accreditation and closure is direct. Losing accreditation also means losing state authorization to operate.
But on the national level, the link is indirect: According to government regulations, a university must be accredited for students to receive federal financial aid. It's not necessarily the loss of accreditation but the loss of access to federal funds that closes schools.
When accreditation issues close schools, former students are stranded with sub-par credits and degrees. Best-case scenarios involve teach-out plans to help current students graduate or transfer and arrangements with nearby colleges to accept transfers and administer transcripts.
But college closures are often far from ideal, and the impact on students is getting attention from researchers and regulators.
Impact of School Closures on Students
A 2020 study found that most college closures (more than 80%) occur in private, for-profit two-year institutions — a sector rife with controversy over the past decade, which saw the fall of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes.
New research shows the dramatic impact college closures have on ousted students. After losing credits and stamina, most students don't find their way to another school. Less than half of students (47.1%) re-enrolled in another postsecondary institution after the unexpected disruption.
Even fewer graduate: As of last year, just 36.8% of those who re-enrolled had received credentials. Not only do school closures prolong the duration (and, therefore, cost) of college education, they move diplomas out of sight for many.
Closures also disproportionately hit students already fighting uphill to earn their degrees. Most students experiencing closures are nontraditional students over 24, with the largest percentage being over 30 at the time of the closure.
An orderly, elongated timeline for school closures is the best-case scenario for students. Still, nearly one-third (31.5%) have been abrupt with little warning or student assistance, according to the 2020 report. Two-year, for-profit schools were most prone to abrupt closures, accounting for 44.6%. Students who faced abrupt closures had consistently worse re-enrollment and completion outcomes.
What to Do if Your School Loses Accreditation
When institutions lose accreditation and close, students' concerns include whether they can continue at another school and whether they are responsible for repaying the loans taken out for the degree they couldn't earn.
When it comes to federal loans, at least, students are off the hook. If a school loses accreditation before a student earns a degree, that student is not obligated to pay back federal student loans, which are forgiven through closed-school discharges.
But moving forward with education can be more complex. Help from the closing institution makes a measurable difference. The school can help students to transfer or graduate before the accreditation loss is final or make pathways for students to start attending nearby schools.
With or without help from the closing school, students need to get their documents straight. Request official transcripts and hunt down the syllabus for every class you've taken.
Credits earned while the school was still accredited generally remain valid. Those that are not recognized may still be accepted by other schools if you file appeals, and for that you need proof. If you can't find a syllabus, don't hesitate to reach out to the professor.