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Who Keeps Billions of Taxpayer Dollars Flowing to For-Profit Colleges?

For-profit universities have had another rough year, with big players facing federal scrutiny for everything from predatory loans to outright fraud.

Now attention is turning to the schools’ accreditors.

Accreditors are supposed to make sure that schools provide students with a quality education. They are not government agencies, but wield enormous power: Schools need accreditors’ stamps of approval to maintain access to the government’s annual $170 billion in federal student aid.

Losing accreditation would be fatal for most for-profit schools since they rely on federal aid for much of their income. But accreditors rarely crack down, even when students are struggling. One of the areas where students at for-profits face extra burden is debt: While only one-tenth of college students attend for-profit schools, they account for nearly half of all students’ defaults.

What role are accreditors playing? Using recently released federal data, ProPublica analyzed how students are faring under the various accreditors that oversee many for-profit schools.