Carole Feldman and Chrissie Thompson
August 19, 2022
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Education Department has canceled its recognition of an accrediting agency that oversees mostly for-profit colleges, placing in jeopardy the survival of schools that serve about 5,000 students.
The decision bars colleges certified by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools from participating in federal student aid programs unless they can get approval elsewhere. Schools will have 18 months to find new accreditation.
Twenty-seven colleges will be affected, Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal said Friday, although three already are in discussions with other agencies. Department officials did not provide the names of the schools.
The department’s action is the culmination of a years-long effort to put ACICS out of business that began under the Obama administration. Multiple high-profile colleges approved by the agency had misled students about job placement rates, and ACICS hadn’t fulfilled its watchdog role, the Education Department determined. But Betsy DeVos, education secretary under President Donald Trump, restored federal recognition of the agency.
The accreditor’s reprieve was short-lived. In 2020, an investigation by USA Today showed the group had approved a college in South Dakota that lacked evidence of students or faculty. The Education Department began another review of ACICS, and on Friday announced that Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten had denied the accreditor’s final appeal.
At one time, ACICS accredited more than 240 institutions that, in 2015, received a combined $4.76 billion in federal aid and enrolled more than 600,000 students.
In a statement posted on its website, ACICS said it was disappointed by the decision. “We are evaluating all of our options and how best to serve our institutions, including any decision to appeal the Deputy Secretary’s decision in federal district court,” the statement said.
Accrediting agencies serve as gatekeepers for the federal government, vouching for the legitimacy and quality of colleges. If a college is approved by a recognized accreditor, it can receive federal money, such as student loan payments or Pell Grants. That money is crucial for many universities’ survival, especially the for-profit colleges approved by ACICS.