Ed Dept staff recommend terminating recognition of troubled accreditor ACICS

by Emma

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Dive Brief:

  • U.S. Department of Education staff are recommending the agency terminate its recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a move that would require the institutions it accredits to find a new accreditor or else lose access to financial aid.
  • In a report published Friday, the department said the embattled college accreditor hasn’t met key oversight requirements that aim to ensure quality evaluations of schools. 
  • The recommendation will be discussed at a meeting of the department’s accreditation advisory group next month, and a formal decision will follow.

Dive Insight:

If ACICS loses recognition, the colleges it oversees will have 18 months to find a new accreditor in order to keep accessing federal financial aid. That’s a dwindling bunch, however. 

The accreditor’s website lists around 70 institutions and branch campuses, down from more than 250 colleges in late 2016, when the department pulled its federal recognition following the collapse of two for-profit chains it accredited. The agency under former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reinstated its recognition two years later, despite objections from staff.

Since then, however, the department has continued to find the accreditor out of compliance with several of its regulations. A committee of an industry group that vets accreditors recommended revoking its own endorsement of ACICS. In response, ACICS pulled its application to be considered by that group, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. 

A USA Today report last year highlighted concerns about the accreditor’s competence. The publication found an apparent lack of students and faculty at the ACICS-accredited Reagan National University and indications the accreditor was unaware of the school’s condition.

Department staff wrote in their report that, in addition to the compliance concerns it outlined, the Reagan National situation indicates ACICS hasn’t shown it “has the administrative capacity to carry out its accreditation activities in light of its requested scope of recognition.”

ACICS was on the docket for discussion at the July meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, the advisory group that will consider the report next month. It was bumped to February and replaced with a discussion of recommended sanctions for the Higher Learning Commission over how it handled the accreditation of two Art Institutes.

Several education industry groups criticized the department in a September letter for delaying discussion of ACICS. They urged it to withdraw federal recognition, citing reports of ACICS’ financial trouble and noting it had been inviting schools to apply for accreditation. They also argued that the department hadn’t provided enough information about ACICS’ situation ahead of that discussion.

ACICS did not immediately respond to Higher Ed Dive’s emailed request for comment Saturday morning.

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