Center for American Progress

RELEASE: With U.S. Department of Education Soon to Decide on Embattled College Accreditor, New CAP Report Offers Strong Evidence for ACICS to Lose Recognition
Press Release

RELEASE: With U.S. Department of Education Soon to Decide on Embattled College Accreditor, New CAP Report Offers Strong Evidence for ACICS to Lose Recognition

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or ACICS, has overseen the accreditation of  many for-profit schools under investigation by federal or state entities. Its actions have cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and ACICS should no longer serve as a gatekeeper to federal financial aid, a new CAP report says.

Washington, D.C. — Later this month, the U.S. Department of Education advisory body known as the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, or NACIQI, will convene in Washington with the ability to terminate the recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or ACICS. A report released today by the Center for American Progress says that ACICS—which has come under fire by state attorneys general, consumer and student advocates, and members of Congress—offers critical evidence for severing the organization’s status to serve as a gatekeeper to federal financial aid. ACICS, which is the largest national accreditor, also accredited several campuses of the now-defunct for-profit college chain Corinthian Colleges, the collapse of which will cost taxpayers millions of dollars. ACICS also accredited a host of institutions, many of them for-profit colleges, now under investigation by federal or state entities.

”The public puts a great deal of trust in accreditation agencies to make sound decisions and ensure colleges receiving federal aid provide a quality education,” said Ben Miller, the Senior Director for Postsecondary Education and author of the report. “ACICS has abused the public’s trust and should lose the right to serve as a federal aid gatekeeper.”

CAP’s report reveals that over the last three years a majority—52 percent—of federal financial aid dollars received by ACICS-approved schools have gone to institutions that have faced some sort of state or federal investigation. In total, CAP found that these schools had received $5.7 billion from the federal government.

Disturbingly, CAP’s report finds 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 includes institutions such as FastTrain College, which had five campuses on the honor roll in 2011—a year before it was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the owner was charged with allegations of stealing more than $6.5 million from the federal government.

Furthermore, CAP’s detailed review of ACICS policies, procedures, and student outcomes data paint a clear picture of a deeply troubled agency. CAP’s analysis found that ACICS:

  • Accredits a large number of colleges or companies that have been subject to federal or state investigations or settlements
  • Takes minimal to no public action against colleges, even when outside investigations or peer agencies raise red flags
  • Uses weaker student outcomes measures to judge colleges and sets lower thresholds on these measures compared to other peer agencies
  • Produces the worst combined student outcomes of any major accreditation agency
  • Conducts inadequate job placement rate verification
  • Establishes weaker standards for areas such as recruitment and admission that are typically a source of problems for colleges

previous report from CAP found that 1 out of every 5 borrowers at an ACICS-accredited college defaults on his or her loans within three years of entering repayment, a mark that is 50 percent higher than the national average. That figure—known as the three-year cohort default rate, or CDR—is particularly troubling because students at ACICS-accredited colleges take out student loans at higher rates and in greater amounts than those at colleges accredited by other agencies.

In total, these results strongly suggest that ACICS is incapable of acting as a sufficient assessor of college quality and that its repeated poor judgment leaves millions of students and billions of taxpayer dollars at risk. As such, the report concludes, the Department of Education and its NACIQI advisory board should act in the best interest of students and taxpayers and terminate ACICS’ recognition.

Click here to read “ACICS Must Go” by Ben Miller.

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at [email protected] or 202.478.6331.