Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is a non-profit education corporation that is recognized by the United States Department of Education as an independent and autonomous national accrediting body. ACICS was established in 1912. It accredited[when?] 245 institutions of higher education offering undergraduate and graduate diplomas and degrees in both traditional formats and through distance education. ACICS is incorporated in Virginia and operates from offices in Washington, D.C.
|Type||National accrediting body|
During the presidency of Barack Obama, concerns about the validity of its accreditation led the U.S. Department of Education to revoke the accreditor's recognition in 2016, making the students of schools without other accreditation ineligible for federal student aid. After a legal battle, President Donald Trump's administration undid that move. Through a lawsuit, Trump's Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, restored the institution's recognition (although the Council for Higher Education Accreditation withdrew the organization's membership). Immediately after President Biden's inauguration in January of 2021, an independent advisory board, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, following a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Education staff, recommended 11–1 that the ACICS lose its recognition by the U.S. Department of Education as an authorized accrediting body. Final authority rests with the U.S. Secretary of Education.
The question is important because federal financial aid for higher education—Pell Grants and Stafford Loans are the largest programs—requires that it be used at an institution whose accreditation the U.S. Department of Education recognizes. Usually schools that lose recognized accreditation, and thus access to federal financial aid, are forced to close.
ACICS was established upon the request of Benjamin Franklin Williams, President of Capital City Commercial College of Des Moines, Iowa. Upon the meeting of 22 school administrators, who met in Chicago, Illinois, on December 12, 1912, the original alliance formed the basis of National Association of Accredited Commercial Schools (NAACS), which was later renamed ACICS.
The scope of ACICS' recognition by the Department of Education and CHEA is defined as accreditation of private post-secondary educational institutions, both for-profit and non-profit, offering nondegree programs or associate degrees, bachelor's degrees and master's degrees in programs "designed to train and educate persons for professional, technical, or occupational careers."
As an accreditor for many for-profit colleges, ACICS provided information during U.S. Congressional investigations of for-profit education in 2010. ACICS reported that the institutions it accredits are required to demonstrate a student retention rate of at least 75 percent. Retention rates are calculated within a single academic year.
In 2015, ACICS fell under significant scrutiny after the collapse of Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit institution that was accredited by ACICS until its sudden demise. A subcommittee of the United States Senate requested information from ACICS in November 2015. Five months later, twelve state attorneys general requested that the U.S. Department of Education withdraw recognition from ACICS as a federally-recognized accreditor. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau petitioned a federal court to order ACICS to make available information about "its decision to approve several controversial for-profit college chains", and the president of the organization, Al Gray, resigned.
Scrutiny continued in 2016 and intensified after another large chain of for-profit institutions accredited by ACICS, ITT Technical Institute, came under fire by state and federal agencies; the chain closed in 2016 and filed for bankruptcy. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a prominent critic of ACICS, released a report critical of the accreditor in June. Several days later, the U.S. Department of Education formally recommended that the accreditor's recognition be withdrawn. In September 2016, the chief of staff to the U.S. education secretary wrote in a letter to ACICS: "I am terminating the department's recognition of ACICS as a national recognized accrediting agency. ... ACICS's track record does not inspire confidence that it can address all of the problems effectively." The company immediately announced that it would appeal the decision within the 30 days allowed for appeal, to Education Secretary John King Jr. ACICS unsuccessfully appealed the decision and subsequently sued the Department of Education. Although Secretary of Education King finalized the process of revoking the U.S. Department of Education's recognition of ACICS as an accreditor in December 2016, ACICS's lawsuit resulted in a judge ordering Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to review the decision in March 2018 as King did not take into account all of the evidence; DeVos subsequently restored the accreditor's recognition by the Department of Education.
Although the Department of Education continued to recognize the accreditor, many institutions left the organization while its status was in question. At the same time, many institutions formerly accredited by ACICS closed. This loss in membership, combined with the legal costs associated with the lawsuits and legal proceedings, placed the organization into financial difficulties including a $2.1 million deficit in 2019. Although the Department of Education restored its recognition of ACICS following its lawsuit, CHEA did not and ACICS withdrew its application to CHEA in early 2020.
Whether ACICS deserves to be accredited has again been called into question by an investigation by USA Today that found that ACICS had accredited a school, Reagan National University, that appears to be a sham. According to this report, Reagan National University has no campus, faculty, current students, or alumni.
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- U.S. Department of Education (June 2016). "U.S. Department of Education Staff Report to the Senior Department Official on Recognition Compliance Issues". Retrieved June 15, 2016.
- "ACICS Status Update". Retrieved October 25, 2016.
- "Education Department Establishes Enhanced Federal Aid Participation Requirements for ACICS-accredited Colleges" (Press release). United States Department of Education. December 12, 2016. Archived from the original on December 26, 2016. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
- "Department of Education Appeal Decision". Retrieved 14 December 2016.
- Adam Harris (March 25, 2018). "Federal Judge Hands a Victory to Embattled Accreditor". Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
- Kreighbaum, Andrew (June 6, 2019). "Embattled Accreditor Projects Losses After Closure of Member Colleges". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
- Fain, Paul (January 20, 2020). "For-Profit Accreditor Drops Recognition Bid". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
- "This college was accredited by a DeVos-sanctioned group. We couldn't find evidence of students or faculty". USA Today. February 15, 2020. Retrieved February 19, 2020.