Pennsylvania State University received a warning that its accreditation is “in jeopardy” following the child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
There is insufficient evidence that Penn State is in compliance with several accreditation standards, according to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The university said yesterday it was notified of the warning on Aug. 8.
Middle States said it issues a warning when it believes a university can bring itself into compliance. Penn State may be violating government regulations and commission standards of leadership, governance and integrity, according to Philadelphia-based Middle States, which has requested a monitoring report from the school and will make a visit later this year. The university remains accredited while on warning.
“I’m not aware of any major research university in the U.S. losing its accreditation,” said Judith Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a Washington-based group that oversees the nonprofit accrediting bodies. “It would be extraordinary if it happened.”
When a university loses accreditation, it becomes ineligible for federal funds for student loans and research. Last year, 94 of the about 7,800 colleges and universities in the U.S. lost their accreditation, Eaton said.
Penn State received $477 million in federal research support in 2011. The flagship campus, in State College, Pennsylvania, received $44.8 million in need-based financial aid, according to the school.
If the Middle States Commission isn’t satisfied that Penn State has taken the right steps, the university could also be placed on probation. Given its size and resources, Penn State should be able to maintain its accreditation, Eaton said.
“Penn State is a very, very strong institution in many ways,” Eaton said. “It has the resources, it has the will, it has the commitment to sustain its accreditation.”
The university has until Sept. 30 to provide documentation that it is in compliance with the requirements, the school said in a statement on its website.
“This action has nothing to do with the quality of education our students receive,” Penn State Vice Provost Blannie Bowen said in the statement.
Penn State was sanctioned last month by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and fined $60 million for its failure to prevent the sexual abuse by Sandusky, 68, who was convicted in June on 45 criminal counts tied to the abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period.
Former FBI Director Louis Freeh issued a report last month saying university officials tried to conceal the abuse to protect the school from bad publicity.
A voicemail left with the Middle States Commission wasn’t immediately returned.