North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein joined 19 other Attorneys General in urging the Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos to deny the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools’ petition to regain its status as a nationally-recognized accrediting agency. This joint letter follows the department’s solicitation for written comments regarding ACICS’ request for initial recognition after being denied a renewal in 2016.
In their letter, the Attorneys General said they opposed ACICS' application after multiple investigations conducted by their offices found the agency had “extreme and far-reaching oversight failures,” such as inaction after reports of fraud and failing to verify student outcomes at its accredited institutions. They said these failures caused students and taxpayers nationwide “serious harm” and thousands of dollars in accrued student loan debt.
“More than 60 percent of North Carolina’s college graduates have student loan debt – and all of them made significant investments of work and money to earn their degrees,” Stein said in a statement. “The accreditors charged with ensuring quality in education must be held to the highest standards. Without gatekeepers, students can be exposed to abuse from institutions that offer education of little to no value. We cannot allow that to happen.”
The letter specifically mentioned Corinthian Colleges, an institution formerly accredited by ACICS that shut down in 2015, as an example of the ongoing harm caused to students by the agency’s oversight failures. Corinthian Colleges lost access to federal funds after allegations of fraudulent graduation rate reports and deceptive marketing. The for-profit school was forced to either sell or shut down. ACICS continued to accredit Corinthian Colleges until the day it declared bankruptcy.
The North Carolina Department of Justice says it's still working with former Corinthian Colleges students to apply for and receive loan forgiveness.
According to regulations set by the Department of Education, an agency must show “effective compliance with the department’s recognition criteria for at least two years prior to seeking initial recognition.”
The Attorneys General say ACICS has not fulfilled the two-year waiting period and conceded in February 2017 to not meeting the department’s criteria for initial recognition.
In their letter, the officials said ACICS' bid for renewal is troubling. They said many of the institutions the agency formerly accredited have either closed or have failed to convince other agencies to grant them accreditation.
The letter to DeVos also notes that the Department of Education has not made ACICS' petition public.