Dear Commons Community,
Betsy DeVos’s U.S. Department of Education announced earlier this week that it would restore its recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. This allows its member colleges, almost all of which are for-profit, to be eligible for student financial aid. As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education:
“The U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday evening that a controversial accreditor, which had lost its federal recognition in 2016, would again be eligible to serve as a gatekeeper of financial aid.
The department restored the recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which oversees primarily for-profit career colleges. That means that more than 100 colleges still accredited by the council will remain eligible to receive federal student aid, for now. It also means that the council, commonly known as Acics, will not have to face a federal advisory panel in May as part of the process to regain recognition.
The department’s announcement is a response to a federal-court ruling, issued in late March, that concluded the department had used a flawed process in removing the accreditor’s recognition. The accreditor sued the department after its recognition was removed, starting an 18-month countdown in which all of the colleges that it had accredited would have to find a new accreditor by June or lose access to federal student aid.
The judge’s decision did not overturn the department’s earlier action. But it did require the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, to reconsider whether Acics should remain recognized, after she reviews some 36,000 pages of material that the accreditor submitted to the department nearly two years ago. Although the material had been requested by the department, the court found that it had not been reviewed by department officials in revoking the council’s status.
“As the court ordered, we will fairly consider all of the facts presented and make an appropriate determination” on the accreditor’s recognition, DeVos said in a news release.
The department’s announcement does not necessarily mean she will reverse the decision made under the Obama administration. But she will consider more options than just the binary choice of either renewing or denying the council’s recognition. And the council will have new opportunities to prove itself to the department, according to DeVos’s official order.
If a return to full recognition is not appropriate, DeVos said in the order, instead of denying the council’s bid for recognition she would give it an additional 12 months to come into compliance with any remaining regulatory deficiencies.
And DeVos said she not only would consider the 2016 material but also would allow the council to submit additional information to show that it could come into compliance.
What’s less clear is whether DeVos, and other department officials who advise her, will give any weight to the previous determinations by her predecessor, John B. King Jr., and the federal advisory panel, which voted to recommend that the council lose its recognition.
The members of that panel, called the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, voted 10 to 3 in 2016 to remove the council’s recognition, following a similar recommendation by the department’s staff. The recommendation was later adopted by King.
Department staff members had also prepared a recommendation for the council’s hearing at the May meeting of the advisory panel. That analysis, in draft form, has not been publicly released.
Before the department’s announcement on Tuesday, Steve Gunderson, president of Career Education Colleges and Universities, the main lobbying group for for-profit colleges, said his association had advocated just such an approach, including restoring the council’s recognition and removing the June deadline for the colleges still accredited by the council to find new accreditors.
He called the judge’s ruling good news that would keep students in colleges that might otherwise have been forced to close down in a few months. “We were dealing with crisis decision-making,” he said.
Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, criticized the department’s announcement. The center has been a harsh critic of the council as taking a lax approach to troubled colleges.
“Yet again,” Miller said, “Betsy DeVos shows her only concern is to do everything in her power to put students at risk of attending lousy schools.”
I agree fully with Mr. Miller’s statement. DeVos’ abandons the interest of students for those of the private, for-profit sector.