In the United States, higher education accreditation is the process through with regional and specialized accreditors extend seals of approval to institutions and programs that meet specific standards for education quality and institutional stability. Regional accreditors, such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), exercise significant authority over the institutions they accredit. This authority has been termed “quasi-governmental power” because accreditors work on behalf of the government to ensure education quality and determine access to federal aid. Accrediting organizations are also the final authority for accreditation decisions. If an institution disagrees with an accreditation outcome and has exhausted its options, litigation is its last resort. This essay investigates how Bennet College and Paine College, which are two Historically Black Colleges and Universities, sued SACSCOC after it removed their accreditation for failure to comply with a financial stability standard. Litigation is rarely successful for institutions, but Bennett College successfully demonstrated that SACSCOC did not follow its own procedures when it removed its accreditation. Although SACSCOC no longer accredits either institution, their cases against SACSCOC demonstrate that litigation is an important tool for checking accrediting organizations’ quasi-governmental authority. Additionally, the cases reveal that HBCUs rely on litigation to survive because automatic preliminary injunctions allow them to maintain their funding throughout litigation and pursue alternative accreditation in the event the cases are not resolved in their favor.
Smith, Rachel E.
"“Quasi-Governmental Power”: Examining Litigation Between the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities,"
The William & Mary Educational Review: Vol. 8, Article 3.
Available at: https://scholarworks.wm.edu/wmer/vol8/iss1/3