An internal draft report that was forced to be released by a lawsuit last week, shows that Betsy DeVos’s own staff at the Department of Education condemned the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) for once again failing to meet federal standards required for accreditation–with 57 of 93 standard criteria failing. The report goes on to recommend ACICS’s status as an accreditor be terminated. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Eric Kelderman, “For the second time in less than two years, officials at the U.S. Department of Education have recommended against approving a controversial accrediting agency that primarily oversees for-profit colleges.”
However, in April Secretary DeVos signed an official order reviving recognition of the disputed accrediting body. According an article by Erica Green in the The New York Times, “Education Secretary Betsy Devos disregarded a scathing review by her own staff this spring when she reinstated the watchdog body that had accredited two scandal-scarred for-profit universities whose bankruptcies left tens of thousands of students with worthless degrees and mountains of debt, a new report has revealed.”
Historically a for-profit accreditor, ACICS has fought for its accreditation reinstatement since the Obama administration eliminated its recognition in 2016 after reporting that the accreditor had failed to meet 21 of the 60 necessary criteria—citing “pervasive compliance problems” with schools which attained accreditation under the council. According to previous education secretary John King, ACICS “routinely failed to adequately police schools under its oversight,” including ITT Tech, The Corinthian Colleges, and other for-profit institutions.
DeVos’s order this spring to temporarily recognize ACICS came on the heels of a federal district judge’s ruling that previous secretary, John King, failed to consider key evidence and used a flawed process in removing ACICS accreditation. However, according to Alex Elson of the National Student Legal Defense Network, which sued to release the report, “Clearly she was well aware that ACICS was getting worse, not better, and has been working to help them anyway.” The report noted that ACICS had failed to demonstrate its evaluation of school compliance with federal student loan aid laws as well as documentation that they failed to implement graduate rate standards for schools, reforms that were promised this year.
A statement from the Education Department’s Frank Brogan called the report “an incomplete, pre-decisional document that may include errors of fact or omissions on the part of staff analysts.” While temporary, with restored recognition more than 100 colleges under ACICS will again be eligible to receive federal student aid. The department’s announcement does not entirely reverse the Obama era ban but allows ACICS continued recognition for an additional 6 months while the department “conducts a further review of ACICS’s 2016 petition for recognition.”
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