Academic Minute Podcast

Christopher Burnett, University of Houston – College and University Accreditation Sanction and Enrollment

Sanctions on an institution can cause students to look elsewhere for higher education.

Christopher Burnett, postdoctoral fellow in the department of education leadership and policy studies at the University of Houston, determines how bad the damage can be.

Christopher Burnett is a Postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Houston. His research focuses on community colleges, student success, accountability, and accreditation.

College and University Accreditation Sanction and Enrollment

Higher education accreditors aim to assure the federal government, employers, students, and other colleges and universities that a school is meeting shared expectations of a post-secondary education. Accreditation represents a mark of quality demonstrating peers recognize a school as meeting relevant standards.

I sought to look at the relationship between accreditation and student enrollment and found that after a college or university gets sanctioned by its accreditor, fewer students enroll. Using data from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, I found between 5 and 10 percent lower enrollment after the institution was sanctioned.

There were two types of public sanctions I analyzed. Warning was the less serious. It means the school needed to address certain concerns. The more serious sanction of probation meant the institution was at risk of losing accreditation without improvement.

I also looked at differences across the institutional sector. Four-year private nonprofit universities had an enrollment decline of around 7.7% two years after warning. Public colleges and universities only had enrollment drops after the more serious sanction of probation. Four-year public universities had enrollment declines of around 5.5% two years after probation. Two-year public colleges, on the other hand, had a larger and more rapid enrollment drop of 9.4% in the first year after probation.

Given that colleges and universities placed on sanction must notify current and prospective students of this fact, it is possible that students’ enrollment decisions are influenced by these sanctions. Regardless, colleges and universities concerned with enrollment may benefit from continual demonstration of compliance with accreditation standards.


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