Industry News

U.S. Department of Education SDO Finds ACICS Mostly Compliant, Renews Recognition for One Year

By Henry Kronk
September 29, 2018
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This week, the U.S. Department of Education concluded their re-opened investigation into the one-time largest for-profit college accreditor in the U.S., the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or ACICS. The accreditor continuously green-lighted some of the most fraudulent and predatory offenders discovered during the Obama Administration’s crackdown on for-profit education, such as ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian Colleges. The report finds ACICS non-compliant with only two DoE regulations and, as has occurred numerous times in the past, recommends renewing DoE recognition for another twelve months.

(Check here for a rundown on ACICS’ continued indifference to DoE policy and their ongoing ability to flaunt corrective measures.)

Getting By With a Little Help From Industry Friends

In the words of Senior Department Official Diane Auer Jones, who authored the report:

“Based on my review, I have concluded that ACICS is in compliance with 19 of the 21 applicable recognition criteria. ACICS was likely in compliance with many of these criteria in 2016 at the time of the Secretary’s Decision. For those two areas in which ACICS has not demonstrated full compliance, I recommend that you provide ACICS 12 months in which it must come into or demonstrate compliance with and application of the criteria pursuant to 34 CFR § 602.36(e)(3).”

The decision comes as no surprise considering Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ industry insider-filled department. Jones was the subject of a letter penned by a group of senators in April addressed to DeVos. It raises considerable concern regarding Jones’ history as a for-profit education lobbyist and details numerous conflicts of interest. Considering DeVos’ own connections to the for-profit industry, the letter likely fell on deaf ears.

Jones’ findings are remarkable, however, when considering ACICS’ track record. Following discovery of the depth of for-profit college fraud, they testified before a Senate committee in 2010, saying they only accredited institutions with a retention rate of 75% or higher. The following year, they would go on to give their blessing to Everest College, a subsidiary of Corinthian College, which reported in the same year a retention rate of 40%.

A History of Non-Compliance at the ACICS

It would take a few years for the fallout of the for-profit college crackdown to reach the ACICS. When they were finally investigated by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), numerous points of non-compliance and failure to enforce their standards at seven different institutions which operated a total of 245 campuses across the country.

The NACIQI investigation revealed that, in some cases, ACICS granted accreditation even after learning of an institution’s wrongdoing. As a later memo describes, “in late 2012, the Department made ACICS aware of evidence of fraud and misconduct at the ACICS-accredited Michigan Jewish Institute (“MJI”), at which a vast majority of the institution’s students were enrolled in a program of religious studies (many of which occurred abroad) that fell outside ACICS’s scope of recognition … In 2013, ACICS advised MJI of numerous findings of non-compliance and requested copies of MJI contracts with foreign institutions. In 2014, despite not having received the contracts requested, ACICS renewed MJI’s accreditation.”

Many of these instances form egregious, willful ignorance of DoE policy. Diane Auer Jones, however, upon review of further documents provided by the ACICS and not considered during the 2016 hearing, found non-compliance with just 2 regulations.

Jones’ findings suggest a remarkable turn around in ACICS business practices, a miraculous 180 from the decade on non-compliance detailed by numerous investigations, reports, and hearings. For at least the next twelve months, the ACICS will continue to oversee their partner institutions, which were at one time comprised of some of the worst offenders in a sector now known for predatory practices.

Featured Image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr.