Advisory Panel Votes To Revoke Troubled College Accreditor’s Recognition

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A week after staff with the Department of Education recommended the termination of federal recognition for the accrediting body that ignored red flags at failed for-profit educator Corinthian Colleges and allowed billions in federal aid to go to schools under investigation, the panel on the receiving end of that recommendation voted to sever ties with Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. 

ACICS came one step closer to losing its federal recognition on Thursday when the panel that oversees accrediting agencies — the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) — voted to de-organize the largest national accreditor.

The vote represents the latest step in what could ultimately remove ACICS from federal financial aid programs.

The Associated Press reports that NACIQI’s meeting on Thursday lasted more than 10 hours, with the head of ACICS pleading with the panel to give it another shot.

“We sincerely believe that we can solve and address the legitimate issues the department has flagged,” Anthony Bieda, top executive with ACICS, said. “We do not say this lightly and we take the department’s concerns very seriously.”

In the end, the panel voted 10-3 against continuing recognition for the accreditor.

“This agency failed to act in an appropriate and timely manner,” panel member Ralph Wolff said, adding that ACICS neglected to dive deeply into years of allegations of fraud and misrepresentation for some of its schools.

Over its history, ACICS has accredited 725 different institutions, and currently accredits 243 institutions, according to a previous report from the Center for American Progress. Most of these schools are for-profit colleges.

Without this accreditation, schools cannot receive federal student grants and loans.

CAP’s report [PDF] found that 17 institutions, campuses, or corporate entities under investigation by the federal or state government received accreditation from ACICS, taking in more than $5.7 billion in federal funds over the past three years.

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.

There’s still a slim chance that ACICS — which accredits many for-profit colleges — won’t lose its recognition. The final decision on its status will be determined by a senior official at the DOE. Once this official receives the staff and NACIQI recommendations, that person will have 90 days to review and make a decision.

Still, a reprieve for ACICS appears unlikely, as several consumer advocates, lawmakers, and even DOE staff, have pushed for the agency to lose its recognition. 

Last week’s DOE staff report found numerous issues on ACICS’ part, including failing to address how well graduates of its accredited institutions succeed on licensing exams, failing to provide documentation of schools’ relationship with licensing related entities, and failing to clarify and document its entire process for the recruitment, selection, and verification of the qualifications and experience possessed by those selected to serve on the agency’s evaluation teams and decision-making bodies.

If the DOE decides to revoke ACICS’s status, the 243 schools that have received its accreditation will have 18 months to find a new accreditor and remain eligible for federal student aid programs, the DOE said in a FAQ last week.

In the case that a school can not find another accreditor, students would no longer be able to use their federal aid at those schools.

“Students who want to continue their education using federal loans or grants past that point would need to transfer,” the DOE says. “Schools also need to have a plan in place to inform students about their options so students are not left scrambling.”

Issues for ACICS came to a head in this spring.

Earlier this month, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren published a report related to the DOE’s accreditation practices and the failures of ACICS. Warren urged the Dept. of Education to take “strong, aggressive” action against the accreditor, pointing 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.

Prior to that, California Attorney General Kamala Harris also sent a letter to the DOE 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.

Panel votes against accreditor of for-profit colleges [The Associated Press]

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