Center for American Progress

STATEMENT: Derecognition of ACICS is a Strong and Necessary Action to Protect Students, Says CAP’s Ben Miller
Press Release

STATEMENT: Derecognition of ACICS is a Strong and Necessary Action to Protect Students, Says CAP’s Ben Miller

Washington, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Secretary of Education John King rejected an appeal from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or ACICS, an accrediting agency that lost its recognition from the U.S. Department of Education in September 2016. Ben Miller, Senior Director for Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress, released the following statement:

The department’s decision sends an important message that higher education’s watchdogs will be held accountable when they fail to do their jobs. For years, ACICS not only looked the other way when presented with problems from schools it oversaw but actually honored several of these institutions. Derecognition of ACICS is a strong and necessary action to protect students.

Today’s announcement means that schools accredited by ACICS now have 18 months to find a new accreditation agency. ACICS should acknowledge that any prolonging of this process—including a challenge in court—will only create unnecessary confusion for students and schools. We urge the agency to accede to the department’s decision so that it can best help students and schools find a meaningful form of quality assurance. That move would signal that the agency truly cares about protecting students and conducting quality oversight.

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 apreiss@americanprogress.org or 202.478.6331.