Loss of Accreditation Could Cost Colleges Billions

Jun 30, 2017

State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) chats with UIUC Chancellor Robert J. Jones on the House floor while another panel of college officials prepares to testify.
Credit Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

If Illinois lawmakers fail to enact a budget, state universities could potentially lose as much as $4 billion in federal funds.

That's according to Randy Dunn, president of Southern Illinois University. He says the Higher Learning Commission has threatened to pull some schools' accreditation — a move that would cause serious ripple effects.

 

"That is a high stakes proposition,” he says, “because without the federal accreditation, we have no access to federal financial aid."

The Higher Learning Commission accredits post-secondary schools in 19 states on a variety of criteria. One of those, Core Component 5.A., concerns fiscal stability: “​The institution’s resources, structures, and processes are sufficient to fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its educational offerings, and respond to future challenges and opportunities. The institution plans for the future.”

In December, HLC asked state universities to prepare financial reports to demonstrate whether they have the resources to remain accredited.

Federal funds including PELL grants are available for use only at accredited institutions. So losing accreditation would mean losing that resource.

Dunn says SIU alone would lose about $230 million, and other schools could bring that total as high as $4 billion. Robert J. Jones, chancellor of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, said the U of I system was secure thanks to their numerous funding streams.

Officials from several schools testified before the House of Representatives last night, explaining yet again how two years of operating on unpredictable and minimal “stop-gap” funding while the partisan budget impasse has dragged on has “devastated” their institutions. Most of those officials have become regular visitors to the statehouse; for Dunn, last night’s appearance marked the 5th time he testified before legislators, and he said he struggled to come up with a new metaphor to describe his school’s situation. He is also preparing a second round of layoffs at the Carbondale campus, which would cost 80 people their jobs.

“I was going to use this analogy about the state’s higher education system being in ICU, being in critical care, and it’s time to save the patient,” he said afterward. “I decided that might be a bit over-the-top.”