Student protection or 'witch hunt'? For-profit files lawsuit against its accreditor

'Evidence now demonstrates that shutting us down was a rush to judgment,' says founder

For-profit Ivy Bridge Education filed a lawsuit against accreditor Higher Learning Commission (HLC) last week alleging it was "strong-armed" into closing during a "witch hunt" against nontraditional institutions, Molly Hensley-Clancy reports for BuzzFeed News.

Ivy Bridge Education seeks unspecified damages against the commission, which was in charge of the for-profit's accreditation and eligibility for federal financial aid.

Background

In 2013, Ivy Bridge College—which was started by Ivy Bridge Education, then known as Altius Education—had invested $10 million into a partnership with nonprofit Tiffin University to serve nontraditional students with online-only two-year degrees. Ivy Bridge served 3,000 students, and 65% graduated or transferred to another college—compared with just 28% at similar schools.

HLC convinced Tiffin to break the partnership due to accreditation issues, essentially saying that the nonprofit provided inadequate oversight and "simply lent its name, and thus its accreditation" to the for-profit, writes Hensley-Clancy.

The quality of Ivy Bridge's degrees was also a factor, according to HLC—although it had praised them in a separate review two years prior.

For-profit graduates 22% less likely to be contacted by employers

The lawsuit

But Ivy Bridge's founder Paul Freedman says many similar programs— such as ASU Online— have since sprung up and attitudes have shifted in favor of them.

"We were a new and innovative program, and we understand the scrutiny, but evidence now demonstrates that shutting us down was a rush to judgment," he says.

However, even if the organization is successful in the lawsuit, Freedman says he is unsure about his company's future.

"We'd love to see the mission resume in some form," he says. "We still haven't figured out how to innovate in a way that expands access in a high-quality way, which is what Ivy Bridge was trying to do" (Hensley-Clancy, BuzzFeed News, 5/14).

The takeaway: A for-profit higher education institution last week filed a lawsuit against the accreditor that shut it down two years ago.


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