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Nation’s Largest Accreditor of For-Profit Colleges Loses Federal Recognition

The Department of Education (DoE) terminated federal recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) on September 22, 2016. Earlier this year, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) recommended ACICS for shutdown to the DoE.

On June 23, 2016, NACIQI recommended to the Senior Department Official (SDO) of the DoE that ACICS be denied recognition as an accreditor. ACICS is no stranger to scrutiny, accrediting controversial schools like Corinthian Colleges, and the recently shutdown ITT Technical Institute. Despite many questionable accreditation decisions made by ACICS over the years, ACICS remained a trusted business partner by the DoE for many years.

The decision to deny recognition to ACICS, an agency that last year served as a gatekeeper for $4.76 billion in federal financial aid, sends a strong signal that accreditors must improve their processes and focus on measures of student achievement, such as job placement, graduation and loan repayment rates, in reviewing for-profit colleges.

On October 21, 2016, ACICS filed an appeal of the DoE’s decision with the Secretary of the DoE. There is no set timeframe during which the Secretary must respond.

If ACICS’s appeal is unsuccessful, the 692 schools accredited by ACICS will have 18 months to gain accreditation from another federally recognized accreditor. During this grace period, schools accredited by ACICS will continue to have access to Title IV funds. But these schools must be accredited by another accreditor before the 18-month time period expires in order to maintain accreditation.

In a post on its website, ACICS states that it “will be actively pursuing injunction and other relief through the courts to provide the agency the benefit of the alternative decision allowing the opportunity over a 12-month period of time to demonstrate the implementation of its strengthened processes and practices.”

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