May 24, 2018

Senators Press DeVos for Answers Following Decision to Restore Recognition of For-Profit Accreditor ACICS

Accreditor Has Long Record of Failing to Hold For-Profit Colleges Accountable

Text of the Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), today sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos expressing deep concern regarding her recent decision to restore the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools' (ACICS) status as a federally-recognized accreditor.  The decision follows a March 2018 court ruling remanding previous Education Secretary John King's December 2016 decision to revoke ACICS's status. 

In June 2016, Senator Warren released a report detailing ACICS's long track record of failing to hold schools accountable for wrongdoing, and urged the Department to take strong oversight action against this accreditor.  Later that year, then-Education Secretary King, on the recommendation of a federal accreditation advisory panel, terminated ACICS's federal recognition.  However, in March 2018, a federal District Court ruled that then-Secretary King's 2016 determination did not consider ACICS's additional submissions of evidence, and ordered the decision remanded back to Secretary DeVos to consider this additional evidence. In response to this ruling, Secretary DeVos issued an order on April 3, 2018 restoring ACICS's status as a federally-recognized accreditor and discussed plans to conduct a "further review" of ACICS's January 2016 petition for continued recognition.

In their letter, the senators raised concerns about Secretary DeVos's decision, outlining ACICS's history of transgressions, noncompliance with federal law, failure to assure a quality education for hundreds of thousands of students, and leniency in accrediting institutions that faced federal and state investigations and penalties. "...We are deeply concerned that your April 3rd decision to restore ACICS's status as a federally-recognized accreditor as you conduct a further review will put students and taxpayers directly in harm's way," wrote the senators. 

The senators also detailed the extensive review process followed by the Department of Education when making its initial determination about ACICS in 2016, noting that at every point of official consideration, the recommendation or decision was to terminate ACICS's recognition as a federally-recognized accrediting agency. "By performing an about face, rather than addressing the supplementary material required by the court's decision, the Department appears to be using the decision as a pretext to ignore the significant and damning record developed through the process," the senators continued.

To better understand Secretary DeVos' decision and its implications, the senators asked the Secretary to answer several questions about the Department's plans and process to review ACICS's application by no later than June 7, 2018.

Senator Warren's oversight effort, DeVos Watch, has been tracking the series of steps taken by Secretary DeVos and the Department that violate conflicts of interest and undermine protections for students and taxpayers.