600,000 students in limbo after accreditor is shut down

Now schools must figure out how to help affected students

Education Secretary John King Jr. on Monday revoked the authority of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), leaving 600,000 students scrambling to continue their education.   

Earlier this year, the Department of Education recommended eliminating ACICS following criticism of the council's oversight of Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit chain that collapsed in 2014. The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity voted to revoke ACICS' accrediting authority, a decision later confirmed by the Education Department. ACICS appealed the decision, arguing that it was subject to an unfair renewal process and that it had taken steps to remedy its actions. ACICS petitioned the Education Department for a temporary renewal of recognition and 12 months to fix its issues, but King denied the request Monday.  

"ACICS has exhibited a profound lack of compliance with the most basic title IV responsibilities of a nationally recognized accreditor," King said in his decision. "The failure by ACICS to develop and effectively implement a comprehensive scheme necessary to establish, apply, effectively monitor, and enforce the required standards and its lack of progress towards effectively doing so, strongly indicates that ACICS cannot meet its ambitious promises to [come] into compliance within 12 months."

ACICS Interim President Roger Williams responded in a statement: "We are deeply disappointed in this decision as we believe it will result in immediate and meaningful harm to… [our] students," he wrote, adding, "We believe the department's decision-making process was flawed and potentially unlawful."

ACICS plans to contest the decision and seek an injunction.  

ACICS accredits 689 vocational and professional school campuses, serving roughly 600,000 students. Many of these schools are for-profit institutions. 

One for-profit institution recently shut down—in the middle of the school day

All institutions accredited through ACICS will maintain provisional certification for up to 18 months, allowing them to receive federal funding until they find a new accreditor. However, these institutions must meet certain milestones to keep their provisional certification, as well as submit plans to the Education Department explaining how students will continue their education.

The incoming Trump administration could re-examine ACICS' case, according to Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. It could also decline to defend the case.

But one thing is clear: "What we have here is an enormous amount of ambiguity for a very large number of people, certainly for ACICS and all the schools it accredits, and for the students who are enrolled in those institutions" (Douglas-Gabriel, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 12/12; Berman, MarketWatch, 12/12; Korn, Wall Street Journal, 12/12). 

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