Report calls for Ed Department to improve process for investigating misleading colleges

WASHINGTON, D.C. — From the cost of tuition to the course requirements, incoming students consider a lot of different factors when picking a college that is right for them.

But that information isn’t always clear or even accurate in some cases.

Now a new watchdog report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is calling on the U.S. Department of Education to improve how it investigates and penalizes misleading colleges and universities.

“Education has not completed written procedures for investigating colleges and has not updated its written procedures for imposing penalties for substantial misrepresentation,” the report said. “Having complete and updated written procedures will help Education investigate the highest-risk colleges and impose appropriate penalties on those the agency finds to have engaged in substantial misrepresentation.”

Students we spoke with said information on cost especially can determine how a student prepares financially and getting wrong information can have long-lasting consequences.

“I feel like they can be more transparent,” said Howard University student Sydney Kates. “What you’re thinking you’re going to pay is right here and then you realize oh wait that’s a lot more money than I thought. I don’t have that kind of money. I didn’t apply for this scholarship because I didn’t think I needed to.”

“Students and parents deserve to be told the truth about college programs and the Department of Education needs to be held accountable for telling that truth to students,” said Melissa Emrey-Arras, a Director in the Education, Workforce and Income Security Team for GAO.

The report points to concerns about colleges being misleading about things like “the nature of their educational programs” and “the employability of their graduates.”

It said the Department of Education imposed penalties on 13 colleges for “substantial misrepresentation” in FY 2016-2021.

“If students are lied to, they may not be able to graduate from their programs,” said Emrey-Arras. “They may have trouble getting a job and they may have trouble paying back their student loans.”

In response to the report, the Department of Education agreed with the recommended changes and said it is working on updating and revising its policies for investigating and penalizing misleading colleges.