STATEMENT: CAP’s Ben Miller on U.S. Department of Education Recommendation to Terminate ACICS’ Recognition

U.S. Department of Education staff report recommendation to terminate ACICS’ recognition arrives after two CAP reports showing ACICS’ failure to safeguard federal student aid dollars and protect students and taxpayers.

Washington, D.C. — Today, a staff report released by the U.S. Department of Education recommended terminating federal recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or ACICS. This decision will be discussed before a federal advisory body next week and represents the first step in removing the agency from federal financial aid programs. 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.

Ben Miller, Senior Director for Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress, released the following statement:

The call from U.S. Department of Education staff to terminate ACICS’ role in the federal financial aid programs is a monumental step to protect students and taxpayers. ACICS’ abuse of the public trust for years could not—and must not—go unpunished. This decision sends a strong and unambiguous signal that accreditation must do a better job acting as a gatekeeper to federal funds.

The writing is on the wall for ACICS. While this recommendation is just the start of this process, the accreditor has an obligation to work responsibly with its institutions, the Department of Education, and others to ensure an orderly operational wind down that minimizes harm to students. After years of failing to protect them properly, it is the least it could do.

The U.S. Department of Education staff report recommendation to terminate ACICS’ recognition arrives after two CAP reports showing ACICS’ failure to safeguard federal student aid dollars and protect students and taxpayers. Last week, CAP released a report revealing 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.

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 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.

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at apreiss@americanprogress.org or 202.478.6331.