Chazz Robinson, Shelbe Klebs
Published February 27, 2023
The Biden Administration and the US Department of Education (Department) have shown their desire to put accreditors in the hot seat and ensure they’re fulfilling their quality assurance mission. Recent actions the Department has taken include reinstating the accreditor dashboards, combating “accreditor shopping” through new guidance, and revising the Accreditation Handbook to clarify agency expectations for student achievement metrics.1
Each of these steps is intended to strengthen the accreditation process and uphold the important role accreditors play in protecting students and taxpayers. But these actions pale in comparison to the monumental decision the Department made last year to terminate federal recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).2 ACICS was an embattled accreditor with a notorious track record for failing its oversight duties, culminating in the collapse of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute. Now that it’s been officially ousted as a gatekeeper of federal dollars, it leaves us wondering: where will the schools formerly accredited by ACICS go to seek new approval, and is there a new bottom-of-the-barrel accreditor on the horizon?
The 411 on ACICS
ACICS was previously one of the larger college accreditors with around 300 schools in its portfolio as of 2016, most of which were for-profit colleges. That year, it was terminated by the Obama Administration for failing in its oversight duties of Corinthian and ITT Tech; ACICS had continued to accredit the schools despite findings of rampant fraud and abuse. Despite these troubles, the Trump Administration gave ACICS a second chance and reinstated the agency in 2018, giving it one year to improve or face termination again. ACICS couldn’t turn it around and fell under Department investigation again in 2021. Finally, in 2022, the Department officially stripped ACICS of its federal recognition, rejecting its appeal and leaving its remaining institutions 18 months to find new accreditor homes.