Education Dept. Drops Embattled College Accreditor ACICS

Colleges accredited by ACICS, which included for-profit schools that defrauded students, will face a strict timeline to keep federal student aid.

Updated August 24, 2022

Education Dept. Drops Embattled College Accreditor ACICS
Higher Ed Policy
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  • The Department of Education will end recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) Friday.
  • ACICS previously accredited hundreds of schools, including the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute.
  • Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech remained accredited by ACICS despite widespread findings of fraud, deceitful practices, and dismal graduation rates.
  • ACICS' status as an accreditor has been challenged by federal officials for years.

The U.S. Department of Education reaffirmed its decision not to recognize the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accreditor of colleges and universities, officials announced Friday.

Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten rejected an appeal for recognition of ACICS. Marten's decision caps off a years-long battle over ACICS' status as an accreditor. Marten wrote that ACICS didn't comply with the Department of Education's criteria for college accreditors, including requirements that accreditors monitor institutions to ensure they comply with federal standards and "have competent, knowledgeable and trained representatives."

The troubled accrediting agency was denied recognition under the Obama administration after a review in 2016 before being given recognition again under former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in 2018. ACICS was then denied recognition again in 2021, a decision the organization appealed.

The Education Department described accreditors as "gatekeepers" of institutional eligibility for federal student aid programs.

ACICS has seen a dramatic decline in the number of schools it accredits since 2016, according to a Department of Education release. The organization accredited 237 schools that enrolled a total of 361,000 students when its recognition was first pulled in 2016. Today, ACICS accredits 27 schools that enroll a total of 5,000 students.

Marten wrote that, although department regulations allow for up to 12 months of conditional recognition, ACICS "has already had multiple opportunities to achieve full compliance."

"Despite its professed improvements, the agency remained out of compliance in 2018, at which time it was given another opportunity to reach full compliance. Its continuing failure to reach full compliance with this criterion alone is a sufficient basis to terminate ACICS' recognition," Marten wrote.

The 27 schools currently accredited by ACICS will need to find a new accreditor and have up to 18 months of provisional participation in federal student aid programs, according to the release. Those institutions will also be subject to "additional monitoring, transparency, oversight, and accountability measures" if they want to continue to offer federal student aid.

ACICS did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday, but told The Washington Post that the Department of Education's decision was "deeply flawed and that ACICS has been in substantial compliance with any objective, consistent and reasonable interpretation of the recognition criteria."

ACICS once accredited the now-closed Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute. In June, the Biden administration discharged $5.8 billion for federal student loan borrowers defrauded by Corinthian Colleges. Last week, the Department of Education announced it would discharge $3.8 billion in federal student loans that borrowers received to attend ITT Tech following an investigation into the for-profit school's recruitment methods and program quality.

"It is time for student borrowers to stop shouldering the burden from ITT's years of lies and false promises," Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. "The evidence shows that for years, ITT's leaders intentionally misled students about the quality of their programs in order to profit off federal student loan programs, with no regard for the hardship this would cause."

President Joe Biden has focused on regulating for-profit colleges during his time in office, BestColleges previously reported. That effort has included a ramped-up focus on borrower defense claims and closing a loophole that allowed for-profits to rake up the vast majority of their income via federal financial aid.