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Education Dept.: Issues Remain with Troubled Accreditor ACICS

  • ACICS had its recognition revoked under Obama administration
  • Ed’s DeVos considering whether to OK accreditor permanently

Education Department staff recommended top officials deny federal recognition to a troubled college accrediting agency after they found more than 50 areas where the agency was not in compliance with federal law, according to a draft report.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools’s 2017 application to be recognized by the department failed to show it can effectively monitor if colleges it examines comply with the agency’s standards or respond to complaints in a timely manner, among other things, according to the draft report released late June 8.

The report also referenced a December 2017 letter from the department saying ACICS has limited support from educators within its membership and the higher education community. The letter from Herman Bounds Jr., the department’s accreditation group director, also questioned the validity of the job placement rates of ACICS-affiliated schools and whether its credentials were widely accepted by other institutions.

“The department recommends that ACICS withdraw its application and reapply when it can demonstrate full compliance,” Bounds said in the letter.

ACICS President Michelle Edwards said there were numerous inaccuracies in the draft report and the agency had submitted additional material to show they complied with federal standards.

“We stand by the information we have presented to the Department and we look forward to completing the review process in an efficient and constructive manner,” Edwards said in a statement.

Education: Report Incomplete

Accrediting organizations hold the key in deciding which colleges and universities get access to the approximately $120 billion in federal student aid doled out annually.

ACICS allowed more than a billion dollars in federal student aid dollars to go to troubled colleges that significantly misled students about the value of their degrees, including Corinthian College schools and ITT Technical Institutes. For that and other reasons, the Obama administration to stripped ACICS of its official recognition in 2016.

But in March 2018, a federal judge ruled the Obama administration violated the Administrative Procedures Act by failing to take into account 36,000 pages of documents when deciding if ACICS’s recognition should be renewed. Although the draft report shows the department was aware ACICS had dozens of potential compliance issues, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos temporarily re-instated ACICS’s recognition by the department.

The department said reinstating ACICS was necessary given that the decision was made as part of a flawed review process. “This Department can’t operate on or enforce a decision that was found invalid by the court,” said spokeswoman Liz Hill in a statement.

The department also said the June 8 report was incomplete and may include errors or omissions because ACICS did not get the chance to offer feedback before a final report.

As of May, ACICS was overseeing 169 institutions with more than 172,000 undergraduates, according to a report from the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, a group created by the Higher Education Act (PL 110-315) to review accrediting agencies.

Worse, Not Better

The report was written before the March ruling, when ACICS was applying for recognition as an accreditor, rather than a renewal of that status. That means senior department officials won’t use the report when deciding whether to renew ACICS’s status.

Bloomberg Government received the report from an open-record request, but the department released the report only after The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, requested the report through an open-records law and a later lawsuit.

Robert Shireman, senior fellow at The Century Foundation, said the report showed that ACICS had gotten worse since its recognition was removed.

“DeVos may be content with ignoring the overwhelming outside consensus on ACICS’s performance, but she cannot deny the expert opinions of her own staff,” Shireman said. “It’s time she put an end to this opaque process and denied recognition to ACICS.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Jonathan Nicholson at jnicholson@bgov.com

The post Education Dept.: Issues Remain with Troubled Accreditor ACICS appeared first on Bloomberg Government.

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