Dear Commons Community,
In a decision that has been brewing for a while, US Department of Education Secretary John B. King Jr. yesterday rejected an appeal from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, one of the largest national accreditation agencies, to remain on its list of approved accreditors. As reported by The Washington Post:
“King is siding with his staff and an independent advisory board that deemed the council incapable of rectifying years of lax oversight of troubled for-profit colleges. Advocacy groups, lawmakers and state attorneys general have accused the accrediting agency of letting schools accused of fraud or with abysmal graduation rates receive millions of dollars in federal loans and grants, despite the risks to students and taxpayers.
The council has responded to the criticism by increasing the frequency of its on-site evaluations, removing board members with conflicts of interest, bringing in new leadership and stepping up enforcement actions. Its threat to revoke the accreditation of ITT Technical Institute set in motion a chain of events that ultimately led the for-profit schools to shut down. Still, the council’s efforts have not quelled objections to its participation in the federal student aid program.
“We are deeply disappointed in this decision as we believe it will result in immediate and meaningful harm to hundreds of thousands of students currently enrolled at ACICS-accredited institutions,” Roger Williams, ACICS interim president, said in a statement. “We believe the department’s decision-making process was flawed and potentially unlawful as it did not take this significant progress into account.”
Williams said the accreditation agency plans to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction. That will leave the schools the council accredits in a holding pattern until a final court ruling.
At stake is the future of nearly 300 colleges with 600,000 students. They will ultimately have 18 months to find a new accreditor to prevent students from losing access to government loans and grants. Other accreditation agencies might reject colleges accredited by the council, such as the Art Institutes, which would be the death knell for some. Even if council schools are able to find an accreditor willing to work with them, getting approval could be a long and arduous process.”
This decision was overdue but better late than never. It will be interesting to see what the new US DOE Secretary, Betsy DeVos, does with King’s decision.