Student enrollment declines at colleges and universities that are placed on probation

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The big idea

Whenever a college or university is sanctioned by the agency providing its accreditation, fewer students enroll in that school. This is what I found in a study in which I examined whether sanctions influence how students decide which schools to attend.

In my analysis, I looked at whether schools given a warning or placed on probation had lower enrollments over the next six years. Using 13 years of data from 847 colleges and universities accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, I found between 5% and 10% lower enrollment after school sanction. Additionally, the decline in enrollment occurred in the second, third, and fourth years after assent.

My study looked at two types of sanctions that a school may face: warning or probation. The warning is the lesser of the two and means the school must address all identified concerns, or risk probation. Probation means that the institution risks losing its accreditation without improvement.

There were significant differences in enrollment declines by school type. Private, not-for-profit four-year universities saw enrollment decline about 7.7% two years after the warning’s lesser sanction. Even though student enrollment plummeted after the slightest sanction, it took two years for the change to be felt.

In order to see if the decline in enrollment was related to the sanctions, as opposed to something else, I looked at the time that elapsed between these two events. Enrollment dropped after the sanction, but not before. I also explored other possible causes, such as graduation rates, which are considered indicators of quality, but the relationship to the sanctions held.

Public colleges and universities, on the other hand, saw declines only after the harsher sanction of probation. Enrollment at public four-year universities fell about 5.5% after probation. As with their private counterparts, the decline took two years. Public two-year colleges experienced a larger and faster enrollment decline of about 9.4% after probation.

why is it important

The agencies that accredit colleges and universities play a unique role in higher education in the United States: they are intended to assure federal and state governments, as well as employers, students, and the general public, that colleges meet certain threshold standards for items such as faculty, curriculum, student services and libraries.

My study shows that sanctions by an accrediting body lead to lower enrollments. While it’s unclear whether students use sanctions in their enrollment decisions, the report demonstrates that colleges that fail to meet accreditation standards risk declining enrollment, which could lead to financial hardship. additional.

This is especially notable given the rapid decline in enrollment nationwide since COVID-19 hit in the spring of 2020 – especially at community colleges. This is consistent with other research in which I have found that nationally, community colleges are particularly prone to post-sanctions enrollment declines.

What is not yet known

When colleges are placed on probation by their accrediting agency, they are required by federal law to notify current and prospective students within seven business days. But whether students are actually informed — and whether they understand the notice — is a separate question. Without knowing how savvy students are and without understanding what that means, it’s hard to tell if students are consciously avoiding schools they know have been put on probation, or if something else – like a bad press linked to a scandal of some kind – could be at the origin of their decision.

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