The Consequences of Losing Accreditation

What many people don’t understand about accreditation is that it’s not permanent. Instead, accreditation is granted for a specific period of time, after which it can only be renewed by successfully completing the accreditation process again.

If unsuccessful, the institution will lose its accreditation status, and that has serious implications for students. Requests for financial aid may be denied. Credits in progress may not transfer. Enrolled students may lose money. Degrees become worthless.

Fortunately, losing this status happens only rarely. But when it does happen, affected students will have questions.
What follows are the most common questions along with some general answers.

Q: Is there a way to know if a school is in danger of losing accreditation?

A: You can check its status with the regional or national agency responsible for the school’s accreditation. Before losing accreditation, the agency will warn of any problems and may put the institution on probation. Remember, accreditation is a long process. When problems are uncovered, schools are given a chance to address them. There may be warning signs as well. For example, if tuition seems cheap compared to other schools, or if admissions personnel use aggressive tactics to get you to enroll or come across as desperately in need of students, take notice. Also take time to gather opinions from currently enrolled students. Numerous complaints are a definite red flag.

Q: Will students be notified of a loss of accreditation status?

A: Maybe, but maybe not. If you’re concerned, check The Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. A status of “Terminated” will tell you the answer. But you might also find out by accident, like when you’re denied financial aid when previously you had been approved. Or you might notice a decline in the quality of the education; another sign that the school’s in trouble.

Q: Am I entitled to a refund when a school loses accreditation?

A: Getting money back once a school loses accreditation is difficult, and it’s rare. Your money might not even be available to refund if the loss of accreditation is the result of improper financial management.

Q: What about credit transferability?

A: Credit transferability is always questionable, even when accreditation status isn’t an issue. The best advice is to speak to admissions counselors at the institution you intend to transfer to and explain the situation. Current credits probably won’t transfer; however credits earned prior to the loss of accreditation might.

Q: Is there any legal recourse?

A: You always have a right to sue, but whether or not you’ll win your case is questionable. In the past, students have had successful outcomes when bringing suits against institutions that misrepresent accreditation status, and mislead students about credit transferability. However, lawsuits are costly, both in terms of time and money. The easier route is to carefully and thoroughly check into a distance learning institution’s accreditation status before enrolling. So do it.