July 29, 2020
The U.S. Department of Education’s accreditation advisory group voted Wednesday to reject sanctions recommended by department staff for the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) that include a year-long ban on accrediting new schools.
The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity’s (NACIQI) 9-2 vote, with one abstention, will go to a senior department official, Mitchell Zais, who will make the final determination.
The issue is contentious, highlighting divisions between political and career staff at the department and questions around its relationship with accreditors. “No one shines in our view,” said committee member Paul LeBlanc before putting forward the vote. LeBlanc is also the president of Southern New Hampshire University.
At issue is how HLC handled the accreditation of two Art Institutes that were transferred from Education Management Corp., a for-profit college operator, to the nonprofit Dream Center in late 2017 and early 2018.
Their accreditor, HLC, found during its review of the transaction that two of the schools hadn’t met certain eligibility criteria. It signed off on the transaction, providing that the Dream Center would agree for the schools to be temporarily transferred to candidacy status, interrupting their eligibility for federal financial aid because the schools were still considered for-profits.