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Federal Panel Votes to Shut Down an Accreditor of For-Profit Education

JULY 1, 2015

The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, an 18-member panel that advises the Secretary of Education on accreditation matters, recommended that recognition be denied for the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools in a rare vote on June 23.  The panel's recommendation followed more than 10 hours of deliberation, including testimonies from Department of Education analysts and a number of third-party commenters who blasted the accreditation agency for its lax oversight  of colleges and schools operated by several prominent for-profit companies.  The recommendation  reflects, in part, the U. S. Department of Education's increasing focus on holding accreditation agencies accountable for the performance of the institutions they oversee.

The panel's action was not unexpected.   The deliberations followed nearly a year of intense scrutiny applied to ACICS by news organizations, think tanks, student-advocacy groups, state attorneys general, members of Congress, and the Department of Education.  The much maligned accreditation agency was cited for failing to verify the job-placement data of the institutions its oversees, failing to establish policies to prevent conflicts of interest among members of its governing board, and failing to sanction institutions accused of wrongdoing.

The vote of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity sets a new process in motion.  A senior Department of Education official now has 90 days to make a final decision on the accreditor's status.  If that official follows the recommendation of the panel, the recognition of ACICS will expire in 18 months.  The agency does have the right to appeal the official's decision to the Secretary of Education.   If the Council's authority is removed by the Department of Education, some 800 primarily proprietary institutions will need to seek another accrediting body or lose access to federal student-aid dollars.  

Having served on numerous evaluation teams and having worked as a professional staff person for the the Association for Biblical Higher Education, I often become uneasy when the Department of Education, or any federal agency, becomes overly intrusive in the affairs of accrediting agencies.  However, given the well-documented bad practices that have existed within the for-profit sector and the unwillingness of ACICS to hold its member institutions accountable, I think the panel's decision is a good one.  The issues with which the agency is charged are serious and substantive and undermine the assurance and advancement of quality higher education.

Larry J. McKinney
Higher Education Consultant  
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