The warning could lead to the school losing its accreditation, though experts said that was unlikely to happen. Most schools that receive the warning work their way off the list within two years. Probation is the next step if the school fails to comply. After two years of noncompliance, schools lose their accreditation, resulting in students not being allowed to use government loans, Pell grants and other federal funds to attend the school.
Penn State is now one of about 15 schools in the Mid-Atlantic region with a warning. Penn State stressed that it remains accredited and that academic programs are not being questioned.
The Philadelphia-based Middle States Commission issued the warning last week based on the school's handling of molestation allegations against Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach convicted in June of sexually abusing 10 boys.
Concerns include whether Penn State trustees provide sufficient oversight of the administration, the strength of the university's ethical standards and the school's compliance with government policies, such as those requiring campus crime reports, said Middle States spokesman Richard Pokrass.
The commission also wants the school to address its financial status in light of a $60 million penalty imposed by the NCAA and any lawsuits from Sandusky's victims.
Penn State must submit a report to the agency by Sept. 30. A small team of accreditors would then visit the school in State College.
Accreditation warnings are important tools because governments typically don't take action against colleges and universities, Broad said. Accreditation agencies provide accountability through standards enforcement and peer evaluation of academic programs, university leadership, financial stability and institutional honor.
Middle States accredits more than 525 colleges and universities in five states plus the District of Columbia, two U.S. territories and several international locations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.