A quick glance at the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools’ (ACICS) “Institution Closings” list reveals a disturbing trend: national and regional for-profit colleges and universities (FPCUs) are falling like dominoes. Westwood College, who currently tops the list, cited declining enrollments “due to market shifts and changes in the regulatory environment." Several ITT Technical Institute closures are also on the list, which ITT Tech Warriors creator Christina Hammond and fellow site administrator Niki Howland also track closely. Indeed:
It has been the goal of Christina and Niki to raise awareness about the atrocities that ITT Tech commits against veterans, students, taxpayers and government. It is imperative that the two student debtors also educate others about the student debt crisis and how it ruins lives.
In a letter addressed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity and the U.S. Department of Education, Faculty Forward Network joined a coalition of organizers and advocates fighting on behalf of students, faculty, and staff “to ask NACIQI and the Department of Education to recommend that the Secretary deny the application for recognition by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).” In particular, the letter asks NACIQI and the Department of Education to be aware of four key points when reviewing ACICS:
(1) its poor track record of student outcomes, (2) the close ties between it and executives from troubled colleges, (3) the substantial number of institutions it approved that are or have been subject to federal and state investigations and settlements, and (4) a lack of any acknowledgement that there may be a problem with the quality of its work.
The letter leaves little doubt that ACICS is part of the problem and, therefore, recommends that the accreditor should no longer be part of the process.
In what appears to be a reactionary move to change course and address some of the issues that are in the spotlight, ACICS took action against for-profit giant ITT Tech, questioning its “administrative capacity, organizational integrity, and financial viability and ability to serve students in a manner that complies with ACICS standards.” This move comes on the heels of ACICS President and CEO Dr. Albert Gray’s resignation, though it’s unclear how appointing Anthony S. Bieda as the interim Executive in Charge may salvage the accreditor with a record of enabling poorly performing FPCUs to receive Title IV funds.
David Halperin, Attorney, Washington DC, compiled a list of the schools involved in “pending and recent federal and state government investigations and actions regarding for-profit colleges,” and ACICS accredited schools are on this list, too. Despite overwhelming evidence and calls for the end of questionable accreditation practices, Inside Higher Ed reports: “U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon rejected the CFPB’s attempt to force an embattled national accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, to turn over information about how it decided to approve several controversial for-profit college chains.”
What’s more revealing, and shocking if dismissed, is that 12 United States Attorneys General sent a letter to Secretary John King of the Department of Education and Jennifer Hong, Executive Director of NACIQI, concluding:
ACICS’s accreditation failures are both systemic and extreme. Its decisions to accredit low-quality for-profit schools have ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable students whom it was charged to protect. It has enabled a great fraud upon our students and taxpayers. ACICS has proven that it is not willing or capable of playing the essential gate-keeping role required of accreditors. It accordingly should no longer be allowed to do so.
The AG’s statement and recommendations echo Christina and Niki’s: lives are ruined in the wake of for-profit greed and deception. Enough is enough, already: the quality and integrity of the accreditation process that the public relies on has been compromised. It’s in the best interest of students and taxpayers to raise the standards and intercept the accumulation of educational debt tied to dodgy schools.
Based on the concerns presented by defrauded students, organizations, advocates, and 12 Attorneys General, we believe that the Application for Renewal of Recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) should be denied.