On January 22, the U.S. Department of Education released its final staff reports(review the HTML formats) in which it recommended the termination of recognition for the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). The report was issued in advance of the February 24-25, 2021, meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), after which NACIQI will make a recommendation to the Senior Department Official (SDO) regarding ACICS’s continued recognition.
Given all the hard work we have all done as an agency over the last five years, this development is extremely deflating and frustrating. ACICS has implemented significant reforms designed to address concerns, strengthen the accreditation process and, ultimately, enhance our ability to hold institutions accountable for meaningful student outcomes. We have improved and evolved our processes to ensure we not only remain in compliance with current federal requirements, but also foster an environment of rigorous quality and continuous improvement, both at ACICS and our accredited institutions.
As a result of those efforts, I believe that ACICS satisfies the recognition requirements as established by the Department and that we had remedied any deficiencies previously noted by the Department. Nevertheless, it is apparent that Department staff have failed to recognize the improvements we have made to strengthen our ACICS process, procedures, and accreditation standards and have focused on issues that in no way relate to or impact our effectiveness as an accreditor.
We are reviewing the staff report and will prepare a thorough and vigorous rebuttal in advance of the February NACIQI meeting. It is worth noting that NACIQI is an advisory committee and its vote is only a recommendation to the Department. The SDO will have 90 days following the NACIQI meeting to render a final decision regarding ACICS. If that decision is not favorable to ACICS, we have the option to appeal to the Secretary of Education.
If the SDO decides to terminate our recognition, and if the Secretary were to uphold the decision of the SDO, the Higher Education Act allows the Department to certify ACICS-accredited institutions to continue their participation in federal student aid programs for up to 18 months from the date of the final decision. We would expect, therefore, that institutions would have 18 months to apply to and be granted accreditation from a new accreditor.
We remain focused on the important work before us and steadfast in our commitment to excellence and to retaining ACICS’s recognition. As we move through the next steps, I will continue to update you on the implications for your institution and the students to serve.
President and CEO Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
We have worked with schools across the nation who are accredited by national and regional agencies such as: