A Troubled Accreditor’s Long-Term Outlook

Source: Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed, April 13, 2018

A national accreditor at the center of the collapse of two for-profit college chains got another lease on life after a court ruling kicked back to the Department of Education a 2016 decision withdrawing federal recognition and, later, the Trump administration restored that recognition pending further review. Even with another shot at restoring federal recognition, though, the long-term outlook for the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools remains murky. … But some higher education observers believe that even if the department ultimately restores the accreditor’s recognition, it won’t be around for the long haul. That skepticism is due to the number of colleges that have already made moves to depart ACICS and to the damage the accreditor’s brand has sustained as regulators have scrutinized its failures in oversight. …

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DeVos Restores Recognition of For-Profit Accreditor Terminated by Obama Administration
Source: Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed, April 4, 2018

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a signed order Tuesday that she was restoring the federal recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the for-profit accreditor that had waged a fight for reinstatement since the Obama administration withdrew its recognition in 2016. DeVos took the action in response to a federal district court judge’s ruling last month that former secretary John King failed to consider key evidence before terminating the recognition of ACICS. The ruling kicked back to the department final consideration of the accreditor’s fate. But it left unclear whether the department would review the original 2016 petition or the appeal filed by ACICS in 2017. That latter scenario would involve a more strenuous process for the accreditor as a body no longer recognized by the federal government. …

Court Win For Students Over Predatory For-Profit Colleges
Source: David Halperin, Huffington Post, February 21, 2017

Minutes ago, United States District Judge Reggie Walton denied a motion filed by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked the U.S. Department of Education from proceeding with the de-recognition of the organization. ACICS needs Department recognition in order for the colleges it accredits to be eligible for federal student grants and loans. Judge Walton said in open court that ACICS had not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits of the case, particularly because then-Secretary of Education John King determined in December that ACICS was in substantial noncompliance with the rules governing accreditor performance. … There were rumblings before the hearing that the new Trump-Betsy Devos Department of Education might back down and somehow try to reverse Secretary King’s decision, as lobbyists for predatory for-profit colleges have been openly and aggressively urging. It’s not at all clear how the Department could simply dump King’s decision; from the regulations it appears that ACICS would have to start all over again and re-apply. For today, at least, the Department of Justice, which represented the Secretary of Education in case, diligently and skillfully opposed ACICS’s motion. … ACICS has been the accreditor for some 240 institutions exclusively or primarily, and most of those are for-profit colleges. $4.76 billion in taxpayer dollars went from the Department of Education to ACICS schools in 2015.But ACICS has been the asleep-at-the-switch accreditor of some of the most notorious bad actors in the for-profit college sector, including Corinthian Colleges, ITT Tech, Kaplan, EDMC (the Art Institutes), Career Education Corporation (Sanford-Brown), Alta Colleges (Westwood), Globe, FastTrain, and Daymar. …


Government Moves to Close a Watchdog of For-Profit Colleges
Source: Patricia Cohen, New York Times, September 22, 2016

The Education Department on Thursday moved to shut down the nation’s largest accreditor of for-profit colleges, which had stood watch as failing institutions like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute teetered on a pileup of fraud investigations. The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools — known as A.C.I.C.S. — is one of a few dozen different organizations charged with maintaining standards and quality at the country’s more than 5,400 higher education institutions. … A letter from the Education Department said that A.C.I.C.S. was out of compliance with regulations in 21 areas. While it acknowledged some progress, the letter stated that the group’s “track record does not inspire confidence that it can address all of the problems effectively.” The council has said it plans to appeal the decision. “We believe that A.C.I.C.S. has demonstrated that the organization can come into compliance with the Department of Education’s regulations within one year as required under the department’s recognition criteria,” Roger J. Williams, the council’s chief executive, said in an email before the decision was issued. A.C.I.C.S. was responsible for approving roughly 240 institutions that received $4.7 billion in taxpayer money last year. … Although several agencies have been under pressure for slipshod oversight, A.C.I.C.S. has frequently been singled out for the scale of its deficiencies and its low standards. A Senate committee, several state attorneys general, federal agencies and others are scrutinizing its record. In June the national advisory panel on accreditors voted to strip A.C.I.C.S. of its authority after a staff report from the Education Department recommended its demise — a foretaste of Thursday’s decision. …

Government Set To Kill Controversial College Watchdog
Source: Molly Hensley-Clancy, Buzzfeed, June 23, 2016

An independent government panel voted overwhelmingly Thursday to recommend killing one of the largest college watchdogs in the U.S. for failing to act on evidence of wrongdoing at scores of colleges. The vote by the government-appointed National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, or NACIQI, virtually seals the fate of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or ACICS. Hundreds of mostly for-profit colleges across the U.S. — enrolling more than 400,000 students — will be left scrambling to find a new accreditor if the Department of Education signs off on the committee’s recommendations to revoke ACICS’ recognition. … During a tense hearing that stretched on for hours, NACIQI heard testimony that ACICS had time and time again given its stamp of approval to schools facing serious allegations of fraud and wrongdoing. The accreditor, whose schools collect billions of dollars in federal taxpayer money, has some of the lowest standards of any independent watchdog agency. Panel members grilled ACICS officials on their accreditation of Northwestern Polytechnic University, which BuzzFeed News reported last month had functioned for years as an upmarket visa mill, faking foreign students’ grades so that they could remain in the country and spending millions of dollars on private homes for the school’s executives. … At the hearing, ACICS argued fervently that its license should not be revoked, saying it had made significant strides towards change and should be given another chance given its size and the potentially serious repercussions of revoking its ability to accredit schools. …

The Days May Be Numbered For Corinthian Colleges’ Accreditor
Source: Kirk Carapezza, NPR, June 15, 2016

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education took a step toward shutting down the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools by recommending it not be renewed as an accrediting body later this summer. Founded in 1912, ACICS is one of the country’s oldest and largest college accreditors. But it recently came under fire after continuing to accredit campuses owned by Corinthian while the for-profit giant lied about graduation rates and used aggressive sales tactics to recruit students. … Perhaps with some foresight, Bieda announced this month that his agency would stop accepting new applications for colleges seeking to become accredited, but he defended the accreditation process and his agency’s role in it. …

For-Profit Colleges Say New Obama Rules Will “Crush” The Industry
Source: Molly Hensley-Clancy, Buzzfeed, June 13, 2016

Colleges will be banned from using legal language that prevents their students from suing them, under a sweeping reform package announced today by the Obama administration. The proposed regulations bar universities that accept federal student loan dollars — essentially all U.S. schools — from locking their students into forced abritration agreements. Such agreements have become widespread at for-profit colleges across the country, and have been broadly criticized for limiting the ability of students to take complaints before a judge and jury. … The Obama administration has taken a hard tack against for-profit colleges, pushing through a rule that would cut off federal financial aid to schools whose students take on high debt loads but earn little with their degrees. John B. King, Obama’s new Secretary of Education, said the proposed regulations were another step forward, this time with a focus on ferreting out wrongdoing and limiting damage to taxpayers caused by fraudulent schools whose loans must be forgiven. … The rules proposed today could could also pose a serious financial threat to the country’s for-profit colleges, some warn. They seek to impose heavy financial penalties on colleges that are suspected of wrongdoing, or are otherwise at risk for closing — a measure that for-profit colleges say could “crush career education,” according to the country’s largest for-profit college lobbying group. …

For-Profit College Lobbyist Gives the Game Away
Source: David Halperin, Huffington Post, June 13, 2016

It is absolutely stunning that the for-profit colleges’ chief lobbyist, Steve Gunderson, told a reporter today that a new Obama Administration proposed rule — a rule that would finally give students and taxpayers some leverage to recover payments for abuses by predatory schools — “will crush career education.” What does that say about the performance and intentions of the schools he represents? It says, I believe, that many of these schools have made a lot of their money, in reality, by deceiving, over-charging, and abusing students, and if they can no longer do that with impunity, it’s game over. And that is indeed the point of the rule: Debt forgiveness for students who were deceived by colleges; requirements that troubled colleges put up cash to repay victims and taxpayers in the event of their demise; and a ban on colleges using fine-print clauses to deny injured students the right to seek damages in court (clauses that only for-profit colleges have been using). …