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Penn State Warned Accreditation in Jeopardy

Posted on 15 Aug 2012 by Neilson

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Penn StatePennsylvania State University's accreditation is "in jeopardy," one of the nation's primary accrediting groups warned the school, in the latest fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child-sex-abuse scandal.

However, a spokesman for the group played down the risk that Penn State would ultimately lose its accreditation. " There's no reason to believe that they shouldn't return to compliance in a very short time," said the spokesman, Richard Pokrass.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, an association that accredits universities and is recognized by the Department of Education, told the school in an Aug. 8 letter that its accreditation was at risk based on a report by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh, and National Collegiate Athletic Association sanctions, which included a $60 million fine.

The commission said there was "insufficient evidence" that Penn State was complying with standards related to governance and integrity, as well as meeting financial obligations. It said Penn State remains accredited while on warning, and asked the university to provide a report by Sept. 30 documenting steps it is taking to comply.

The group, which accredits 523 colleges and universities, revoked accreditation only twice in the past two decades, both times at small schools, citing financial and governance issues.

Accreditation is crucial for universities. Without it, students don't qualify for federal student aid, and schools generally close.

Mr. Pokrass said the commission has received angry emails from Penn State alumni, accusing the group of grandstanding. But he defended the warning letter, noting that Penn State itself has acknowledged that it failed to comply with certain rules, including the Clery Act. That law requires campus authorities to report crimes to the police. "The commission is doing what it should be doing," he said.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson said the university would provide the requested information ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline. "We are a university that is fully committed to its core values of honesty, integrity and community," he said.

The university has been under increasing pressure since Mr. Sandusky, a former assistant Penn State football coach, was convicted in June on 45 counts related to child sex abuse. The Freeh report criticized the handling of allegations about Mr. Sandusky by four former top university officials, including head football coach Joe Paterno, who died in January.