U.S. Department of Education
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this release noted enrollment of ACICS-accredited institutions was 3,800. That number has been updated to nearly 5,000 students.
Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced that colleges currently accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) will now be required to fulfill additional operating conditions for continued participation in the federal student aid programs. This requirement follows U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten’s final decision to terminate federal recognition of ACICS.
Although ACICS is no longer a nationally recognized accrediting agency, the Department will provisionally certify ACICS-accredited institutions for continued participation in the federal student aid programs for up to 18 months from today, the date of the Deputy Secretary’s final decision. This 18-month provisional certification period allows institutions time to seek accreditation from another nationally recognized accrediting agency.
During this period of provisional certification, the Department will require the ACICS-accredited institutions to comply with additional conditions that are designed to protect students and safeguard taxpayer dollars. These conditions include additional monitoring, transparency, oversight, and accountability measures. Only ACICS-accredited institutions that agree to these conditions may continue to offer federal student aid.
The Department’s Federal Student Aid office will begin sending provisional program participation agreements (PPAs) to the affected institutions, which will have 10 calendar days to respond affirmatively to the new agreements to remain eligible to participate in federal student aid programs.
The additional PPA conditions establish strong protections for students and taxpayers, preventing ACICS-accredited institutions from establishing new programs or locations or enrolling new students who will be unable to complete the program by the end of the provisional period unless the institutions become accredited by a new nationally recognized agency.
Within 30 days, all ACICS-accredited institutions will be required to submit teach-out plans for helping students complete their academic programs elsewhere if necessary and submit information about recent and ongoing investigations to ensure the Department is aware of key risks in this new environment of reduced oversight. Other new requirements for ACICS-accredited institutions include:
In her decision letter, Deputy Secretary Marten wrote:
“Recognition by the Department must be reserved for agencies that adhere to high standards, just as accreditation by agencies must be reserved for institutions and programs that adhere to high standards. The regulations provide for conditional recognition for up to 12 months, the kind of latitude ACICS seeks on this matter, when an agency will remedy an instance of noncompliance in that time period. However, ACICS has already had multiple opportunities to achieve full compliance. ACICS was found noncompliant with 34 C.F.R. § 602.15(a)(2) as far back as 2016. Despite its professed improvements, the agency remained out of compliance in 2018, at which time it was given another opportunity to reach full compliance. Its continuing failure to reach full compliance with this criterion alone is a sufficient basis to terminate ACICS’ recognition.”
The Deputy Secretary’s decision follows a several years-long process that began in 2016, with the Department’s decision to cease recognizing ACICS. ACICS’s appeal to have their recognition reinstated was denied by then Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. ACICS followed that decision with a lawsuit against the Department. After a federal judge required ED to consider new evidence, then Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos reinstated ACICS in 2018.
ACICS currently accredits 27 schools that enroll nearly 5,000 students. When the Department ceased recognition in 2016, ACICS accredited 237 schools that enrolled 361,000 students.
Last June, the Department’s Senior Department Official (SDO) agreed with the recommendations of accreditation staff and NACIQI to withdraw recognition of ACICS. In its February 2021 final staff report, the Department’s accreditation staff found that ACICS failed to comply with federal recognition criteria, including monitoring of compliance of institutions and inadequate administrative capability. ACICS appealed the SDO’s decision, and the matter was referred to Deputy Secretary Marten.
Deputy Secretary Marten’s decision is the Department’s final action. ACICS is no longer a nationally recognized accrediting agency and can no longer serve as a “gatekeeper” of institutional eligibility for federal student aid programs.
As gatekeepers to $112 billion in annual federal student aid, nationally recognized accrediting agencies serve a vital role in ensuring quality for students and families and in protecting students and taxpayers. The Department oversees the accrediting agency recognition process, which determines whether agencies are reliable authorities on educational quality. Since February 2021, the Department has taken a series of steps to strengthen the accreditation process.
In addition to strengthening the accreditation process, the Department has taken a series of steps to ensure that that all students have access to a valuable postsecondary education, and all institutions are held accountable for poor outcomes. Recently proposed regulations and executive actions that aim to strengthen institutional accountability include:
The Department is currently drafting final regulations for these proposals in response to comments and feedback from the public.
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U.S. Department of Education