Think tank sues Education Dept. over public records requests on college accrediting bodies

The Century Foundation, a public policy think tank, sued the U.S. Department of Education on Thursday seeking the release of records on controversial higher education accrediting agencies that are linked to lax regulation.

The American Bar Association and the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools are among more than a dozen private accrediting bodies that will undergo a review this spring to decide if they get federal recognition needed to operate. The Education Department, whose blessing allows the organizations to oversee the quality and standards of the nation’s colleges, has asked the public to submit comments concerning the groups’ performance.

But the Century Foundation says the Education Department is refusing to make public key reports from the Bar Association and the Accrediting Council before the end of the comment period, making it difficult for outside analysts to provide an informed assessment.

“By setting an extremely short window for public comment and then rejecting [The Century Foundation’s] request for expedited processing, the Department of Education has effectively rendered the public comment period useless,” said Alex Elson, an attorney at the National Student Legal Defense Network, a nonprofit representing the foundation. “How is [the foundation] supposed to provide informed comment to the department when the most essential materials are actively being kept secret and hidden?”

The Education Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit. Read more…