Elizabeth Warren Says Accreditor Of For-Profit Colleges Has “Dismal Record Of Failure”

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Only days after a report found that an organization responsible for accrediting a number of for-profit colleges  had engaged in a “pattern” of providing approval to schools with bad track records, resulting in these colleges receiving nearly $6 billion in federal funds, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is joining the chorus of voices calling on the Department of Education to take action.

Sen. Warren of Massachusetts is urging the Dept. of Education to take “strong, aggressive” action against Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), one of the nation’s largest college accreditors.

In a report [PDF] released by Warren, she points to ACICS’s “dismal record of failure, including its repeated accreditation of schools operated by the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges Inc., in spite of evidence of obvious shortcomings and problems at these colleges.

 

According to the report, Dept. of Education’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) continued to approve ACICS despite information that the company give approval to schools when there was clear evidence of wrongdoing.

“College employees who witnessed ACICS’s accreditation processes have questioned the rigor of the accreditor’s reviews,” the report states, noting that one employee called it a “dog and pony show.”

In the case of Northwestern Polytechnic University, which was eventually found to be a visa mill, the report states ACICS was contacted by a whistleblower about the school’s misdeeds.

When ACICS contacted the college it allegedly took the explanation at face value, issuing no sanctions.

“In its supervision over ACICS, NACIQI has an exceptionally egregious record of failed oversight,” the report states, noting that some of ACICS’s worst failures have occurred in the time since a 2011 review found the accreditor to be in compliance.

In fact, the report found that NACIQI rarely makes use of its serious sanctions, such as preventing an accrediting agency from accrediting any new schools while its compliance issues are outstanding.

“The Committee has made this recommendation only four times during the past six years. Two of those accreditors are no longer in operation; one has returned to compliance, and the fourth remains under sanction – that is, not allowed to accredit any new institutions – while it prepares a compliance report,” according to the report.

The report comes weeks before the Department of Education advisory board — known as the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity — is set to meet and could terminate the recognition of ACICS.

“If NACIQI members and Department of Education officials want to restore public confidence in their own review process, they must demonstrate that they understand the devastating consequences of ACICS’s long record of failure,” Warren states in the report.

Warren’s letter and report come days after The Center for American Progress released its own report [PDF] highlighting ACISC’s failure to take action by revoking accreditation to the schools even after federal regulators opened investigations into the schools’ practices and it became evident that students were unable to repay their debt obligations after enrollment.

In all, ACICS has accredited 725 institutions — including now defunct Corinthian Colleges and Fast Train schools — where more than 400,000 students have enrolled.

When compared to campuses receiving accreditation from the top five national companies, ACICS’s institutions have the worst graduation rates, the lowest rate of students repaying their student loans, and the second-worst student loan default rates.

According to the report, 21% of students attended an institution approved by ACICS had defaulted on their federal loans within three years of leaving school.

For its part ACICS on Monday announced [PDF] it would take steps to improve its processes and restore “trust and confidence.”

“Every aspect of the agency must be re-evaluated, fortified and enhanced,” ACICS’ top executive Anthony Bieda said in a statement.

Last week, California Attorney General Kamala Harris sent a letter to the Department of Education urging it to revoke federal approval from ACICS.

With the letter, Harris expressed support for 13 other state Attorneys General who previously voiced their concerns over the renewal of ACICS as an accreditation agency.

Following the collapse of CCI last year, lawmakers opened an inquiry into how to improve the oversight of agencies that one might assume provide an indicator as to whether or not a particular school has met high standards for education and financial security. It’s unclear how that inquiry has progressed.

The committee’s inquiry came just weeks after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau requested documents from ACICS related to its accreditation of for-profit colleges.

The Bureau’s request was part of its investigating into possible “unlawful acts and practices in connection with accrediting for-profit colleges,” according to Inside Higher Ed.”