Troubled For-Profit College Accreditor That DeVos Saved Still Flouting Rules

Records Show DeVos’ Staff Found Ongoing Problems at ACICS Nearly A Year After the Education Secretary Controversially Restored Its Federal Recognition

Washington D.C. — Consumer watchdog group Allied Progress released records obtained via FOIA request showing the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools [ACICS], a chronically-troubled for-profit college accreditor, is still demonstrating significant problems nearly a year after Education Secretary DeVos’ controversial decision to restore its federal recognition. The Education Department’s Accreditation Group sent a letter on November 21, 2019 informing ACICS that a review found numerous “compliance concerns,” including accusations that the accreditor is failing to properly investigate alarming information about the colleges it’s accredited. On top of violating several federal standards, the Department found ACICS even “failed to follow its own policies and procedures.” Read more: Politico, 12/9: ‘Education Department finds new ‘compliance concerns’ with accreditor ACICS’

DeVos’ November 21, 2018 reversal of the Obama administration decision to terminate ACICS’ federal recognition reportedly came at the urging of her top aide Diane Auer Jones, the former for-profit college lobbyist perhaps best known for her leading role in the Dream Center accreditation scandal and later lying to Congress about it. DeVos also disregarded warnings from career staff in June 2018 that ACICS was still running afoul of federal requirements.

“The letter is as damning an indictment as we’ve seen from career government auditors,” said Jeremy Funk, spokesman for Allied Progress. “Secretary DeVos went out of her way to keep an irresponsible accreditor in operation, which in turn kept subpar for-profit colleges afloat for an extra year — subjecting who knows how many students to bad experiences and more debt. Secretary DeVos exhibited poor judgement in going along with the recommendations of her aide who not so long ago was the top lobbyist of a for-profit college corporation that ran into its own troubles with federal and state regulators for mistreating students. But the ‘Save ACICS’ decision was totally on brand for DeVos, who consistently protects the for-profit college industry no matter the cost to student borrowers. So don’t expect the Secretary to express any regret over it.” 

Added Funk: “If Secretary DeVos were serious about cleaning up her Department’s act, Diane Auer Jones would have cleaned out her desk a long time ago. As long as DeVos keeps listening to a former for-profit college lobbyist over her career staff, we’re only going to see more problems of this kind.” 

 WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

ED Staff Found Ongoing Problems With Troubled College Accreditor ACICS Nearly A Year After Betsy DeVos Restored Their Federal Recognition In A Controversial Move.

The Department Of Education (ED) Conducted A Review Of The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools’ (ACICS’) Accreditation Practices—ED Delivered Its Results To ACICS On November 21, 2019.

On November 21, 2019, The Education Department’s (ED’s) Accreditation Director Sent The Accrediting Council For Independent Colleges And Schools (ACICS) The Results Of A Review It Conducted Following Reports About ACICS’ Accreditation Practices.

On November 21, 2019, The Director Of The Education Department’s Accreditation Group Informed The Accrediting Council For Independent Colleges And Schools (ACICS) About The Results Of A Review His Office Conducted Following June 2019 News Reports About ACICS’ Accreditation Practices. On November 21, 2019, Herman Bounds Jr., Director of The Accreditation Group in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education, wrote to Michelle Edwards, President of The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), “I am writing to inform you of the results of our (the Office of Postsecondary Education’s Accreditation Group’s) review of the information and documentation provided by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS or the agency), regarding the information reported in Inside Higher Ed on June 4, 2019, and The Chronicle of Higher Education on June 5, 2019, which reported the agency’s public testimony to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s recognition committee.” [Letter from Herman Bounds Jr. to Michelle Edwards, 11/21/19]

ED’s Review Found That ACICS Gave Accreditation To Virginia International University (VIU), Despite ACICS’ Possession Of Information From A Virginia Agency Claiming The School “Committed Plagiarism, Grade Inflation, And Other Academic Concerns.”

ED’s Review Weighed Whether ACICS Gave Accreditation To Virginia International University (VIU), Which A Virginia Higher Education Agency Found To Have “Committed Plagiarism, Grade Inflation, And Other Academic Concerns.”

The Review Evaluated Whether “ACICS Accredited An Institution, Virginia International University (VIU), That Is Alleged, By A State Agency, To Have Committed Plagiarism, Grade Inflation, And Other Academic Concerns.” “The article in The Chronicle of Higher Education also includes information that ACICS accredited an institution, Virginia International University (VIU), that is alleged, by a State agency, to have committed plagiarism, grade inflation, and other academic concerns.” [Letter from Herman Bounds Jr. to Michelle Edwards, 11/21/19]

ED’s Review Saw That ACICS And The Virginia Agency Reached “Strikingly Different Conclusions” About VIU’s Distance Learning Programs And Expressed Concern That ACICS’ Reviewers “Failed To Uncover The Deficiencies” Noted By The State Council Of Higher Education For Virginia (SCHEV).

Citing “Strikingly Different Conclusions” Reached By ACICS And The Virginia Higher Education Authority, The Report Said, “We Are Concerned That Either ACICS’s Distance Education Standards Did Not Contain The Same Level Of Rigor” As The Virginia Authority. “The Department is concerned with the strikingly different conclusions reached by ACICS and SCHEV regarding the academic quality of the distance learning programs at VIU. […] We are concerned that either ACICS’s distance education standards did not contain the same level of rigor as those utilized by SCHEV or that ACICS’s onsite reviewers failed to uncover the deficiencies noted by the SCHEV audit in August 2018 as required by Sections 602.16(c) and 602.17(c).” [Letter from Herman Bounds Jr. to Michelle Edwards, 11/21/19]

ED’s Review Found That ACICS “Had Information And Documentation” From The State Council Of Higher Education For Virginia (SCHEV)That “Called Into Question” VIU’s Ability To Meet ACICS’ Own Standards, But ACICS “Did Not Review” It Or Act On It Until The School’s Issues Were “Raised In The Press.”

The Review Expressed Concern That ACICS “Had Information And Documentation” From SCHEV That “Called Into Question VIU’s Ability To Potentially Meet The ACICS’ Standards,” But ACICS “Did Not Review The Information And Documentation, Nor Act Upon It Until Over A Month Later Once The Issue Was Raised In The Press.” “The Department is concerned that the agency had information and documentation from SCHEV that called into question VIU’s ability to potentially meet the ACICS’ standards, but did not review the information and documentation, nor act upon it until over a month later once the issue was raised in the press.” [Letter from Herman Bounds Jr. to Michelle Edwards, 11/21/19]

ED’s Review Stated “ACICS Appears To Have Failed To Follow Its Own Policies” And Expressed Concern That “ACICS Still Does Not Have Adequate Mechanisms In Place To Conduct A Prompt Review” Of Schools.

The Review Stated, “ACICS Appears To Have Failed To Follow Its Own Policies And Procedures Related To The Timely Review Of Adverse Information.” “This appears to indicate that ACICS failed to follow its own policies and procedures related to the timely review of adverse information, as expected by Section 602. 28(d).” [Letter from Herman Bounds Jr. to Michelle Edwards, 11/21/19]

The Review Also Stated, “The Department Is Concerned That ACICS Still Does Not Have Adequate Mechanisms In Place To Conduct A Prompt Review When It Receives A Negative Report From A State Or Other Agency About An Institution […]” [Letter from Herman Bounds Jr. to Michelle Edwards, 11/21/19]

ACICS Was Considering The Accreditation Of The San Diego University For Integrative Studies (SDUIS) Although The School Had Been Denied By Another Accreditor—ACICS Claimed SDUIS Was A “Separate Entity” From One Of Its Rejected Subsidiaries, Contrary To ED’s Review.

ED’s Review Also Looked At How ACICS Was Weighing An Accreditation Application From The San Diego University For Integrative Studies (SDUIS), A School That Had Been Denied By Another Accreditor, The Accrediting Council For Continuing Education & Training (ACCET).

The Review Also Evaluated If ACICS Was Working To Grant Accreditation To The San Diego University For Integrative Studies (SDUIS), A School That Had Been Denied By Another Accreditor, The Accrediting Council For Continuing Education & Training (ACCET). “The same article states that the San Diego University for Integrative Studies (SDUIS) is seeking accreditation from ACICS, and that the institution is currently appealing a denial of reaccreditation decision by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET).” [Letter from Herman Bounds Jr. to Michelle Edwards, 11/21/19]

Although One Of SDUIS’ Subsidiaries Had Been Denied Accreditation By ACCET, ACICS Appears To Have Never “Conducted A Comprehensive Analysis” Of SDUIS’s Relationship To Its Rejected Subsidiary As It Weighed SDUIS’ Application.

The Review Stated, “It Does Not Appear That ACICS Conducted A Comprehensive Analysis” Of The Relationship Between SDUIS And One Of Its Subsidiaries That Was Denied Accreditation By The Accrediting Council For Continuing Education & Training (ACCET). “The breadth and depth of information and documentation provided by SDUIS does not clearly demonstrate that USAELC is a separate entity, nor does the information included within the initial resource site visit report or on the DAPIP. Therefore, it does not appear that ACICS conducted a comprehensive analysis to assess the relationship between SDUIS and USAELC [USA English Language Center], to determine if ACICS is required to take into account the accreditation action by ACCET on USAELC when reviewing SDUIS, as required by Section 602.28(d).” [Letter from Herman Bounds Jr. to Michelle Edwards, 11/21/19]

ACICS Claimed SDUIS’ Rejected Subsidiary Was A “Separate Entity,” But ED’s Review Found “The Breadth And Depth Of Information” Did “Not Clearly Demonstrate” The Subsidiary Was Separate.

ACICS Claimed It Did Not Contact ACCET, The Accreditor That Denied The SDUIS Subsidiary Because It Claimed The Subsidiary Was A “Separate Entity.” “The agency did not provide any correspondence with ACCET regarding SDUIS, as requested by the Department in its letter to ACICS. Instead, the agency states that SDUIS is not accredited by ACCET, but that it is a separate entity, USA English Language Center (USAELC), owned by SDUIS, that is accredited by ACCET. Therefore, ACICS did not contact ACCET due to that distinction and because ‘the institution being invited to apply for accreditation is not, and cannot be, accredited by the agency (i.e. SDUIS’ program offerings are beyond ACCET’s scope of recognition).’” [Letter from Herman Bounds Jr. to Michelle Edwards, 11/21/19]

Despite ACICS’ Claims, The Review Found “The Breadth And Depth Of Information And Documentation Provided By SDUIS Does Not Clearly Demonstrate That USAELC Is A Separate Entity […]” “The breadth and depth of information and documentation provided by SD UIS does not clearly demonstrate that USAELC is a separate entity, nor does the information included within the initial resource site visit report or on the DAPIP. Therefore, it does not appear that ACICS conducted a comprehensive analysis to assess the relationship between SDUIS and USAELC, to determine if ACICS is required to take into account the accreditation action by ACCET on USAELC when reviewing SD UIS, as required by Section 602.28( d).”  [Letter from Herman Bounds Jr. to Michelle Edwards, 11/21/19]

SDUIS Plainly Stated A Relationship With ACCET In A Letter To ACICS.

SDUIS Plainly Stated In A Letter To ACICS That It Was “Currently Approved And Monitored” By ACCET, The Other Accreditor. “In Exhibits 14a, 14b, and 14c, the agency provided the response by SDUIS to public comments received by ACICS. The SDUIS’ response cover letter includes statements by the institution that: ‘SDUIS enjoys an excellent reputation in the professional community and is currently approved and monitored by the following agencies – Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)’ (Exhibit 14a, page 7-8); and ‘the ESL program has been accredited by ACCET since 2013. A copy of our letter of accreditation is included as Attachment C’ (Exhibit 14a, page 8).” [Letter from Herman Bounds Jr. to Michelle Edwards, 11/21/19]

Based On Its Findings, ED Has Demanded Further Information From ACICS In A Report Due February 1, 2020—ACICS Also Has A Separate Compliance Report Due On December 21, 2019.

ED’s Review Concluded That, Based On Its Findings, ACICS Must “Must Now Provide Information And Documentation To Address The Compliance Concerns Noted In This Letter” In A Compliance Report Due February 1, 2020.

ED’s Review Of ACICS Concluded That, “The Agency Must Now Provide Information And Documentation To Address The Compliance Concerns Noted In This Letter” In An Upcoming Compliance Report Due February 1, 2020. “Based on the findings of the Department staff in this review of ACICS, the agency must now provide information and documentation to address the compliance concerns noted in this letter related to Sections 602.15(a)(l), 602.16(c), 602.17(c), 602.17(e), and 602.28(d) within another compliance report due February 1, 2020.” [Letter from Herman Bounds Jr. to Michelle Edwards, 11/21/19]

ACICS Is Set To Provide Other Information In An Already-Scheduled Compliance Report Set For December 21, 2019.

ACICS Must Provide Other Information Related To Secretary DeVos’ “Recognition Decision” In A Compliance Report Scheduled For December 21, 2019. “As required by the Secretary’s recognition decision dated November 21, 2018, ACICS is scheduled to provide a compliance report on Sections 602.15(a)(2) and 602.15(a)(6) to the Department on December 21, 2019.” [Letter from Herman Bounds Jr. to Michelle Edwards, 11/21/19]

ACICS Was Only Given Recognition For 2019 Based On The Recommendation Of Former For-Profit College Lobbyist Diane Auer Jones.

In November 2018, Betsy DeVos Restored The “Controversial” For-Profit College Accreditor ACICS, Despite The Obama Administration’s Finding That They Were “Incapable” Of Fixing Their “Lax Oversight” And “‘Profound Lack Of Compliance.’”

In November 2018, Betsy DeVos Restored Recognition To ACICS, A “Controversial” For-Profit College Accreditor.

On November 21, 2018, Betsy DeVos “Restored Federal Recognition” To ACICS, “A Controversial Agency That Accredits For-Profit Colleges.” “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday restored federal recognition to a controversial agency that accredits for-profit colleges, reversing an Obama administration decision to put it out of business.” [Laura Meckler, “Betsy DeVos reinstates controversial gatekeeper of for-profit colleges,” The Washington Post, 11/21/18]

Previously, In December 2016, The Obama Administration Determined ACICS Could No Longer Be A “Gatekeeper” Between Federal Student Aid And Colleges Because The Accreditor Was “Incapable Of Rectifying” Their “Lax Oversight” And “‘Profound Lack Of Compliance.’”

In December 2016, ACICS’s Was “No Longer Allowed To Serve As A Gatekeeper Between Colleges” And Federal Student Aid By The Obama Administration Because “The Agency Was Incapable Of Rectifying Years Of Lax Oversight And ‘Exhibited A Profound Lack Of Compliance’ With The ‘Most Basic’ Responsibilities Of An Accreditor.” “In December 2016, the Obama administration ruled that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, known as ACICS, should no longer be allowed to serve as a gatekeeper between colleges and billions of dollars in federal financial aid. It concluded that the agency was incapable of rectifying years of lax oversight and “exhibited a profound lack of compliance” with the “most basic” responsibilities of an accreditor.” [Laura Meckler, “Betsy DeVos reinstates controversial gatekeeper of for-profit colleges,” The Washington Post, 11/21/18]

In September 2018, Diane Auer Jones Recommended ACICS Be Reinstated To DeVos And Given A Year To Fix Their Compliance Issues.

In September 2018, Diane Auer Jones Recommended To DeVos That ACICS Be Reinstated And “Given A Year To Fix” The Criteria That The Accreditor Was Not In Compliance With.

In September 2018, Diane Auer Jones Reviewed The ACICS Record And “In September Recommended That Devos Reinstate ACICS” As “She Found That The Council Was Out Of Compliance With Two Of 21 Criteria But Recommended It Be Given A Year To Fix Those Problems.” “But in March, a federal judge ordered DeVos to reconsider that decision, finding that the Obama staff had failed to review thousands of pages of evidence. […] Diane Auer Jones, reviewed the record and in September recommended that DeVos reinstate ACICS. She found that the council was out of compliance with two of 21 criteria but recommended it be given a year to fix those problems. She also recommended monitoring in a handful of other areas.” [Laura Meckler, “Betsy DeVos reinstates controversial gatekeeper of for-profit colleges,” The Washington Post, 11/21/18]

In Light Of ACICS Reinstatement, Critics Called DeVos Beholden To For-Profit Colleges And Noted That A 2018 Report That Evaluated ACICS’s Reinstatement Application Found That Did Not “Meet Most Standards.”

In Response To ACICS’s Reinstatement, Critics Claimed DeVos “Is Beholden To The For-Profit College Industry” And Some Noted That A 2018 Report “Evaluating An Application From ACICS For Reinstatement” Found They “Failed To Meet Most Standards.”

In Response To ACICS’s Reinstatement, Critics Claimed DeVos “Is Beholden To The For-Profit College Industry” And Some Noted That “A Staff Report This Year Evaluating An Application From ACICS For Reinstatement” Found They “Failed To Meet Most Standards.” “Critics blasted the DeVos decision as evidence she is beholden to the for-profit college industry […] Others pointed to a staff report this year evaluating an application from ACICS for reinstatement by the Education Department, filed after it lost its original standing. That report found the agency failed t

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