Washington, D.C. — This week, an independent federal advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Education—the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI)—will consider whether to strip a troubled accrediting agency, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), of its federal recognition. Losing recognition would mean that ACICS would no longer be able to provide the colleges it oversees with access to millions in federal financial aid. Ahead of NACIQI’s hearing, a new timeline from the Center for American Progress details the history of ACICS’ problems from 2016 to present day, including noncompliance and serious issues within the institutions it accredits.
The column reveals how many times problems have surfaced at ACICS and, ultimately, how an agency that has failed federal criteria for so long has been allowed to continue acting as a gatekeeper to billions in federal aid. While ACICS originally lost recognition in 2016 under the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Education—under then-Secretary Betsy DeVos’ leadership—formally restored federal recognition for ACICS and gave the agency one year to demonstrate full compliance. Since then, ACICS has been plagued by multiple compliance and financial issues. Last February, a USA Today investigation found that ACICS-accredited Reagan National University appeared not to be in operation, with no students and faculty listed on its website who claimed to have never worked there. The story exposed various red flags about the institution, raising more questions about ACICS’ failure to conduct proper oversight and monitoring. The university has voluntarily withdrawn its accreditation status, according to ACICS’ website.
“Accreditation is a major factor in protecting students and federal aid dollars. ACICS failed as a higher education watchdog years ago when many predatory institutions it approved defrauded students—many of whom were Black, Latinx, and veterans, whose financial and academic lives are still strained today as a result of ACICS’ negligence,” said Viviann Anguiano, associate director for Postsecondary Education at CAP. “ACICS was given multiple opportunities to prove that it was up to the task of accreditation, and it has failed at every turn. The time has come for ACICS’ recognition to be permanently terminated.”
CAP has spearheaded research that reveals ACICS’ failure to safeguard federal student aid dollars and protect students and taxpayers. For example, a June 2016 CAP report revealed that over the past three years, a majority—52 percent—of federal financial aid dollars received by ACICS-approved schools had gone to institutions facing some sort of state or federal investigation. In total, CAP found that these schools had received $5.7 billion from the federal government.
That report found that ACICS often recognized these very same institutions under investigation to its annual “honor roll.” From 2010 to 2015, ACICS named a campus or institution that faced a federal investigation to its honor roll 90 times. This included institutions such as FastTrain College—which had five campuses on the honor roll in 2011, a year before it was raided by the FBI and the owner was charged with allegations of stealing more than $6.5 million from the federal government.
Click here to read “ACICS Must Be Stripped of its Federal Recognition for Good” by Viviann Anguiano.
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