The Department of Education has relieved the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the largest agency in the country that oversees for-profit colleges and universities, of its authority. The action was the end of a long controversy surrounding the council's capability to supervise billions of taxpayers' dollars and adequately act as watchdog for students.
"I am terminating the department's recognition of ACICS as a national recognized accrediting agency," Emma Vadehra, chief of staff to the education secretary, wrote in a letter to the organization. "ACICS's track record does not inspire confidence that it can address all of the problems effectively."
A federal panel had already voted to shut the council down in June because of its hit-and-miss management. ACICS was the accrediting agent for ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian Colleges, according to Lauren Camera of US News and World Report.
A formal recommendation had been issued by the DoE to close down the agency, which administers roughly 725 schools and manages $3.3 billion in federal financial aid.
ACICS has plans to appeal the decision and has 30 days to do so, during which time it will retain its official standing.
Education Secretary John King, Jr. has not commented on this particular case but has been extremely vocal concerning the career college sector's mishandling of students' education. King has created a Student Aid Enforcement Unit which will quickly respond to reports of illegal maneuvering by education institutions, particularly for-profit organizations.
Career Education Colleges and Universities President and CEO Steve Gunderson remarked that revoking ACICS' authority would result in a breakdown of postsecondary vocational training in this country.
Minnesota Republican and chairperson of the House education committee Rep. John Kline declared that this move by the Department could put the education of thousands of learners at risk.
Annie Waldman writes for ProPublica that schools under the accreditation of the agency have the lowest rates of graduation in the nation, and ACICS' students also had the lowest loan repayment ratings.
ProPublica also reported that two-thirds of the organization's commissioners were executives at for-profit colleges, many of whom worked at the colleges that were being investigated. Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said:
"The rot from poor behavior spread beyond just the for-profit schools to the people who were supposed to be looking over them. This is an extremely important decision both in protecting students and taxpayers."
In the past few months, the entities who have contacted the DoE asking for action to be taken against the for-profit accreditation problem included over a dozen state attorneys general, members of Congress, along with more than 20 consumer protection and advocacy groups.
ACICS said it plans to continue its efforts to work on its policies and practices to demonstrate its resolve to come into compliance.
Reporting for Bloomberg, Shahien Nasiripour explains that accreditors like ACICS are paid by colleges to determine the schools' eligibility to receive taxpayer funding. Accreditation is a critical element for schools because students cannot receive federal student aid at a school that is unaccredited.