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December 01, 2020, 23:00 GMT
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today filed a comment letter opposing a request by a national for-profit college accreditor seeking to regain its federal recognition. In response to a solicitation by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for written comments, Attorney General Becerra joined a coalition of 23 attorneys general in calling for the Department to reject the application by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), noting that ACICS’s institutional failures and noncompliance with federal regulations have enabled predatory schools to saddle thousands of students across the nation with crushing student loan debt. Under former President Obama, the ED terminated ACICS’s federal recognition in 2016, but the Trump Administration reinstated its recognition in 2018.
“The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools is funded by the colleges it’s supposed to regulate. It gave a seal of approval to predatory colleges preying on hardworking students,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Students rely on legitimate accreditors to help them evaluate high-value colleges. State and federal governments rely on accreditors to assess educational quality for student loan investments. ACICS’ accreditations led students to rack up overwhelming loan debt at weak educational institutions while enabling for-profit colleges to gorge on taxpayer dollars. The California Department of Justice calls on the U.S. Department of Education to stop ACICS from further harming students.”
The letter cites multiple oversight failures of ACICS, including the accreditation of for-profit Corinthian Colleges Inc. (Corinthian), which California sued for abusive practices. California’s lawsuit sparked multiple state and federal investigations that eventually brought down the for-profit college and forced it to file for bankruptcy. The accreditation by ACICS enabled Corinthian to target low-income students with false advertisements that misrepresented its graduates’ job prospects. Today’s letter notes that Corinthian obtained approximately $3.5 billion from U.S. taxpayers in the form of federal student aid, while leaving their students overwhelmed with debt and limited career options.
ACICS also accredited ITT Technical Institute (ITT Tech), which was one of the nation’s largest for-profit colleges until the company went bankrupt and folded in 2016. In September, Attorney General Becerra secured a settlement against a trust holding loans for ITT Tech, resolving allegations that ITT Tech deceived students and misdirected them toward expensive student loans that they struggled to repay.
Today’s letter also cites several examples of ACICS’s failure to comply with federal regulations and calls on ED to immediately terminate its federal recognition.
California is a leader in addressing harms in the student lending market and in cracking down on fraudulent for-profit colleges. In 2017, Attorney General Becerra sued Ashford University and its parent company, Bridgepoint Education, for illegal marketing and collections activity, among other abuses. Also in 2017, Attorney General Becerra sued U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over the failure of the U.S. Department of Education to expeditiously grant promised, full loan relief to tens of thousands of borrowers with pending “borrower defense” claims who were defrauded by Corinthian. In June 2018, Attorney General Becerra filed a lawsuit against Navient, the nation’s largest student loan services, and its subsidiaries for unlawfully misleading student loan borrowers, engaging in illegal collections practices, and steering borrowers to more costly repayment options.
A copy of the letter is available here.