December 12, 2018

Warren, Bonamici, Colleagues Call on DeVos to Rescind ACICS Reinstatement

Cite Collapse of For-Profit College Chain Education Corporation of America and New Evidence of Education Department Misrepresentation 

Text of the Letter (PDF) | Exhibits to Letter (PDF)   

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), along with four of their Senate colleagues and five of their House colleagues sent a letter urging Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and officials at the Department of Education to immediately rescind the decision to fully reinstate federal recognition of the controversial for-profit college accreditor, the Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). In the letter, the lawmakers also released new evidence confirming reports that the Department ignored major red flags and premised its decision on false, misleading evidence about support for ACICS among other federally recognized college accreditors.

The letter comes in the wake of news that Education Corporation of America, the largest remaining college chain accredited by ACICS, has abruptly gone out of business. ACICS now has the unique distinction of being the sole accrediting agency that has overseen the three largest collapses of institutions of higher education in American history. In every case, ACICS disregarded clear warning signs and failed to act quickly enough to protect students and taxpayers.

In the letter sent yesterday, Warren and her colleagues released new evidence confirming initial reports that that the Department misrepresented evidence about peer support for ACICS.  In a memo explaining its final decision, the Department claimed that five agencies had written letters in support of ACICS’s reinstatement. But in response to Warren and her colleagues’ earlier inquiry, four out of five agencies denied having issued explicit statements of support.

“These deeply troubling findings confirm the initial reporting that [Education Department officials] – either knowingly or unknowingly – cited or relied on false and misleading information to reach the conclusion that ACICS’s federal recognition should be restored. These major and ongoing falsehoods raise serious questions about the legitimacy of the entire reinstatement process and critically taint your decision,” lawmakers wrote in the letter.

They also noted, “In light of the latest abrupt closure of Education Corporation of America – and the lack of clear oversight and protection from ACICS on behalf of over 20,000 students at 70 campuses nationwide – it is clear you made this decision improperly.”

Senator Warren and colleagues requested that the Department immediately rescind its decision to re-recognize ACICS and release the following documents to Congress in a timely manner:

1. All ACICS documents submitted to the Department as part of the evaluation process for restoring recognition, including the Part II documents, application for initial recognition in 2017, and 2018 Supplement.

2. An explanation regarding whether the Department found that ACICS was in compliance with federal requirements for accreditation as of December 12, 2016. If not, an explanation of what legal authority provides the Department the ability to disregard ACICS’ noncompliance with recognition standards over the past two years.

3. A full and complete accounting of the “editorial error” that resulted in the initial Department citation of false information from accrediting agencies regarding their endorsement of ACICS.

4. Copies of any draft recommendations prepared prior to publication of the SDO recommendation with the “editorial error.”

5. Any emails or other communications to or from Department personnel, including any communications between Department personnel and ACICS, regarding endorsement by ACICS's peer accreditors or this error in the initial SDO recommendation.

6. Any communications to or from Department personnel, including any communications between Department personnel and ACICS, regarding endorsement by ACICS' peer accreditors or this corrected recommendation.

7. An updated list of all remaining schools accredited by ACICS, as of December 11, 2018.

8. Descriptions and copies of any communications with career staff regarding the Department’s decision to re-recognize ACICS. If career staff were not consulted, why not?

9. Any additional data and evidence ACICS submitted after it’s submission of the Part II documents and the 2018 Supplement.

10. An explanation of whether ACICS submitted any evidence or documents, including indicating the number of pages, that are the same as those submitted for the draft staff analysis in the initial recognition application. If yes, did the Department consider the staff analysis of those exhibits? If not, why not?

In addition to Senator Warren and Representative Bonamici, Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Representatives Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Pa.) all signed the letter.