Council for Higher Education AccreditationOne Dupont Circle NW, Suite 510Washington, DC 20036Re: Call for Public Comment: Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and SchoolsMay 10, 2019Dear Members of the CHEA Committee on Recognition,Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the review of whether the AccreditingCouncil for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) meets CHEA’s standards ofrecognition. This comment is submitted on behalf of the Center for American Progress’postsecondary education team.In September 2012, The Board of Directors made the decision to recognize ACICS forthree years and required a full review at the end of that period.1 In April 2016, TheCommittee on Recognition and Board of Directors reviewed ACICS’ application forrecognition and deferred the decision to obtain additional evidence it meets CHEAstandards in three different areas, plus required a review of concerning public informationthat surfaced about the agency. In the time since then, and in addition to new concernsabout whether ACICS has the resources and capacity to sustain itself, this committee andthe Board of Directors have deferred the decision under advisement four additional times,extending the period of recognition six years, double what was originally called for. Thiscan only be read as the committee having serious doubts about ACICS’ ability to meetCHEA’s quality standards.During this time, ACICS actions or lack thereof, have raised and continue to raise seriousconcerns about its ability to serve as a reliable authority of college quality, which havebeen well documented in the attached two reports and several others including innumerous evaluations by the Department of Education.2 These reports cover eventsoccurring during the entire period CHEA approved ACICS and including the period itfailed to make a decision on the agency’s recognition. In that time, countless studentshave suffered harm. Most recently, ACICS had its federal recognition restored, based inpart on its recognition by this very body, which it used to argue demonstrated that it waswidely accepted as a reliable authority.We write to urge the Committee on Recognition to deny ACICS’ application forrecognition. The agency’s actions repeatedly demonstrate it does not meet the

standards—neither the prior standards nor the ones recently approved—set forth underCHEA’s standards for recognition. To do anything other than deny recognition,undermines CHEA’s reputation as an agency that upholds standards for strong qualityassurance, and makes CHEA complicit in the past and future harm of students that enrollin institutions approved by ACICS.1. Fails to Prevent Substantially Underperforming Institutions or Programsfrom Achieving or Maintaining Accredited Status and Provide Substantiveand Timely Response to Public Concerns (11.A.2., 11.A.3.)CHEA standards require agencies to provide a procedure for the agency to take timelyaction to prevent substantially underperforming institutions or programs from achievingor maintaining accredited status. While ACICS might have a procedure on paper, it hasconsistently failed to prevent substantially underperforming institutions from achievingor maintaining accredited status and to respond in a timely and substantive manner tolegitimate public concerns.ACICS has routinely approved institutions with serious problems and failed to act toaddress them. Instead, it is typically the work of other regulators that identify trouble andforce ACICS to act.Take for example, the American College of Commerce and Technology (ACCT), whichwas first approved by ACICS in May 2015.3 Less than a year later, the State Council ofHigher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), the state authorizer, visited ACCT and foundserious concerns. These problems include graduating students that have not met degreerequirements, enrolling students in both undergraduate and graduate courses at the sametime and admitting students without the required English proficiency. Despite theseconcerns, ACICS gave approval for the addition of a branch campus, less than a year intoits initial accreditation. ACICS waited a full four months before following up with a visit,at a period between academic terms without the ability to observe a full schedule ofstudents and classes. ACICS disagreed with SCHEV findings but eventually moved todeny accreditation over two years later, after SCHEV prevented new enrollment andsought to remove its state authorization.Failure to prevent substantially underperforming institutions from achieving ormaintaining accredited status and to take action in a timely manner is not just a problemof the past. It’s still occurring in the present. In late 2018, ACICS’ failure to catch and acton serious deficiencies resulted in the abrupt closure of the agency’s largest chain ofschools, those owned by Education Corporation for America (ECA).4 In May 2018,ACICS placed ECA’s largest chain on show cause after another accrediting agency, the-2-2

Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET), reviewed thecolleges and denied a grant of accreditation.5 In a 59-page letter detailing failure to meet23 standards, ACCET provided details of a long list of concerns, including lowcompletion and job placement rates, high faculty turnover, and problems with governanceand management.6 These are deficiencies ACICS failed to catch. In addition, the agencyfailed to address the chain’s serious and well-documented financial troubles, including itsstatus on heightened cash monitoring, until it was placed under receivership, despiteACICS’ regular monitoring of institutional finances. If ACICS failed to catch seriousproblems at the largest chain of institutions it oversaw, how can it be trusted to catchproblems at the rest of its institutions?For an even more recent example, just this year, six months after ACICS granted VirginiaInternational University (VIU) a full three years of accreditation, SCHEV reviewed thecollege and found deficiencies so concerning, it moved to strip VIU of its certificate tooperate.7 Problems uncovered by SCHEV include rampant plagiarism, grade inflation,online courses deficient in quality and content, and enrolling students that demonstrateinadequate English proficiency.8 ACICS has since placed the institution on sanctionwhile it reviews the findings.9In all three instances, the problems at these institutions only came to light after anotherregulator reviewed the college and made public the findings of its review. How ACICScan routinely monitor its institutions and miss basic problems with academic quality,rigor, and financial troubles remains to be seen. For additional examples, see the Centerfor American Progress’ March 2018 comment to the Department of Education.102. Fails to Demonstrate Accountability for Performance and Transparency(11.A.3., 12.D.3., 11.B.1., 12.E.)CHEA standards require an agency to be transparent in decision-making to includeinforming the public of reasons for the accrediting organization’s accreditation actions ina timely, accessible manner and in a readily accessible directory. ACICS fails to meetthese standards.First, ACICS routinely sanctions colleges for failure to meet student achievementstandards and then quickly removes the sanction and any record of why the agency wassanctioned without an explanation of why the sanction was removed. This raises concernsover whether the programs and institutions sanctioned demonstrably meet accreditorstandards to warrant removing the sanction. If institutions can quickly improveperformance on indicators like job placement over a matter of mere months, it raises-3-3

concerns over whether institutions are manipulating information provided, which hasroutinely happened in the past, or whether ACICS is accurately measuring performancethrough its job placement verification procedures.For example, in April 2018, ACICS sanctioned dozens of institutions and programs,largely for failure to meet student achievement standards.11 Schools placed on sanctioninclude Best Care College which was shown to have a 0% job placement rate; BryanUniversity, with campuses demonstrating a 28 and 47 percent job placement rate; Collegeof Business and Technology with campuses showing a 27 and 33 percent job placementrate; Fortis Institute, with a 43 percent job placement rate; Pittsburgh Career Institutewith a 43 percent placement rate; Stratford University with campuses showing a 31, 43,and 46 percent placement rate; and Universal Training Institute with a 30 percent jobplacement rate, among many others.12 All of the sanctions were vacated by August 2018,a mere four months later.13ACICS standards require institutions to have at least a 60 percent job placement rate.First, it is concerning, that so many campuses and programs (50 ) would suddenly havetrouble meeting student achievement standards seemingly overnight without being caughtbefore.14 This suggests the quality problems are pervasive and widespread acrossinstitutions and ACICS just failed to catch them. However, to make matters worse, it isnot clear why the sanctions were removed so quickly. Did the programs and campusesdramatically improve their job placement rates over a period of four months? Were thecalculations simply wrong? Did the institutions submit new data? All of these scenariosshould raise questions about whether the institutions meet ACICS standards, whetherACICS can reliably monitor institutions, enforce its standards, and verify data, andwhether the information submitted to the agency is accurate. Unfortunately, once ACICSremoves the sanction, it deletes the record and the letter detailing why the sanction wasissued from its public-facing website and does not provide any information on why itremoved the sanction. The above examples are just a small subset occurring in a singlemonth. This does not demonstrate neither accountability for performance nortransparency in its actions.Second, ACICS’ newly created directory contains questionable or inaccurate statuseswithout a letter detailing why the agency is on sanction. At least six institutions havestatuses in the directory that the institution is on compliance warning or show cause andyet there is no letter documenting whether the institution is under sanction or detailingwhy on its lists of schools on compliance warning or show cause.15 These institutionsinclude Atlantic University College, California Institute of Management, BryanUniversity, Fortis Institute, Gwinnett College, and the Nobel School of Business.16-4-4

3. Fails to Communicate and Consult with Appropriate in-countryGovernmental and Non-Governmental Entities Regarding the AccreditingOrganization’s Current and Proposed Activities (12.C.1)ACICS has failed to communicate and consult with appropriate in-country entities. In2018, an investigative report by Information, found that ACICS-accredited Niels Brock, abusiness college in Denmark, did not have formal approval from the Danish governmentto issue bachelor’s degrees (translated article attached), one of ACICS requiredstandards.17 In response to the information, ACICS President, Michelle Edwards, statedthat Niels Brock did have approval on file to operate as a postsecondary institution inDenmark. Niels Brock, however, provided documentation that it does not have Danishauthority to offer the degrees. Other concerns raised by the report found that students, 80percent of whom enroll from Nepal with many others from Bangladesh and thePhilippines, and the Danish Evaluation Institute have raised concerns about the quality ofthe education offered by Niels Brock. Following the report and evidence, ACICS placedthe school on sanction and is seeking evidence that it is authorized to operate inDenmark.18 This suggests that ACICS failed to do its due diligence and communicatewith appropriate entities on the institution’s authority to operate within the country it islocated, outside of the U.S. Given this failure and its poor record of finding problemsdomestically, ACICS approval of schools internationally should be seriously called intoquestion.4. Adequate financial, staff, and operational resources to perform its accreditationfunctions efficiently and effectively (12.H.)CHEA standards require agencies to have adequate financial, staff, and operationalresources to perform its functions effectively. ACICS has rapidly lost revenue, staff, andinstitutions in its membership. According to tax statements, ACICS has had a steeprevenue decline and has operated at a deficit for the last few years.19 ACICS is currentlyunder monitoring and review by the Department of Education for its financial stability.Given losses in membership, including its largest chain that accounted for roughly half ofthe students accredited by ACICS institutions, the commission should strongly considerwhether ACICS has the resources to perform its job effectively.ConclusionCHEA has afforded ACICS ample time and opportunity to make its case, providing theagency with an additional 3 years beyond its initial grant of recognition, and providing at-5-5

least four deferrals since. In that time, ACICS has presided over three of the largestschool failures, failed time and time again to catch problems at the institutions it overseesand failed to take adequate action when warranted. As a result, thousands of studentshave been harmed.ACICS will make the case that it is a reformed agency with stronger standards, new staff,and new life. Yet its record has and continues to demonstrate otherwise. Standards onpaper are meaningless without the action required to apply them effectively.The Committee on Recognition should review all of the evidence in the record, not justthat provided by ACICS, and vote against ACICS recognition. To do anything otherwisemakes CHEA complicit in past and future harm done to students.Sincerely,Antoinette FloresAssociate Director, Postsecondary EducationCenter for American [email protected]