Center for American Progress

STATEMENT: CAP’s Ben Miller on U.S. Department of Education Decision to Derecognize ACICS
Press Statement

STATEMENT: CAP’s Ben Miller on U.S. Department of Education Decision to Derecognize ACICS

U.S. Department of Education decision follows a federal advisory board recommendation to terminate ACICS’ recognition.

Washington, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced its decision to terminate federal recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or ACICS. The decision follows a vote from a federal advisory body to terminate ACICS’ recognition, as well as a recommendation from a U.S. Department of Education staff report, both of which occurred earlier this summer. ACICS, which is the largest national accreditor, accredited all of ITT Technical Institute’s campuses, as well as 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 Department of Education’s action today is a landmark step for protecting students and taxpayers. With its lengthy track record of shoddy oversight—that has led to billions of taxpayer dollars squandered—ACICS had abused the public’s trust and could not be allowed to continue granting access to federal dollars. Rather than fighting this decision, ACICS should do what is in the best interest of students and schools and agree to work with its institutions and the department to ensure a smooth and orderly transition to new accreditation agencies.

The collapse of Corinthian Colleges, and now ITT Tech, is an impossible to ignore signal that the federal accreditation system is riddled with flaws. It shows that Congress must act through the next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act to require accreditors to set stronger standards, act more quickly when problems arise, and no longer allow institutions to shop around for the lowest common denominator of oversight agencies.

CAP has spearheaded research that reveals ACICS’ failure to safeguard federal student aid dollars and protect students and taxpayers. A June 2016 report revealed 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

September 2015 issue brief from CAP found that 1 in 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 [email protected] or 202.478.6331.