May 10, 2019

Warren, Bonamici Lead Colleagues Urging Accreditation Council to Protect Students and Taxpayers by Denying Recognition to Troubled For-Profit College Accreditor ACICS

Lawmakers Cite ACICS's Troubling History of Failing to Protect Students and Taxpayers

Washington, DC -- United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), along with six of their Senate colleagues and seven of their House colleagues, sent a letter to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the association that coordinates the higher education accreditation process, urging them to deny recognition to the controversial for-profit college accreditor, Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), at an upcoming review in June 2019.

ACICS has a long and troubled history of overseeing and accrediting colleges and universities that have misled students, used aggressive recruitment practices, engaged in deceptive advertising, and broken the law. In particular, ACICS failed students through its continued accreditation of colleges owned by the now-defunct Education Corporation of America, Corinthian Colleges, Inc., and ITT Educational Services, Inc., despite their history of poor performance.

"Repeatedly, ACICS disregarded clear warning signs, failed to act quickly enough to protect students and taxpayers, and continued a troubling pattern of failure that has played itself out over and over again as students and taxpayers suffer the consequences," wrote the lawmakers. "When no one else will accredit a substantially underperforming, low-quality institution, ACICS is always there-ready to rubber stamp access to federal taxpayer dollars and put more students in harm's way to keep failed schools in business."

Given ACICS's continued failure to protect students and taxpayers, the lawmakers also stressed the importance of CHEA's decision about whether to recognize ACICS, noting that the Department of Education has relied on CHEA recognition in its recent decisions to grant ACICS federal recognition and the ability to serve as a gatekeeper to federal taxpayer dollars.

Citing the revised CHEA Recognition Policy and Procedures, the lawmakers emphasized how ACICS does not live up to CHEA's own policies and procedures, including CHEA's newly adopted standards for recognition.

"We urge the committee to consider seriously its responsibility and consequences in making this important decision and to deny recognition to ACICS in order to protect students and taxpayers," concluded the lawmakers.

Joining Senator Warren and Representative Bonamici in sending the letter were Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Representatives Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Susie Lee (D-Nev.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.).

As a long-time champion of students for over six years in the U.S. Senate, Senator Warren has been leading the fight to hold ACICS accountable, including her efforts with Representative Bonamici:

  • Beginning with a Senate hearing in 2015, Senator Warren raised serious concerns about the Department of Education's troubled oversight of ACICS and its role as a gatekeeper responsible for approving colleges to accept federal student loans. The following year, Senator Warren released a report detailing the appalling record of failure at ACICS and followed with a letter demanding the Department hold ACICS accountable.
    • Thanks in part to Senator Warren's efforts, in 2016, staff at the Department and the accreditation advisory committee recommended terminating ACICS's federal recognition.  
    • In May 2018, Senator Warren and Senate colleagues pressed Education Secretary DeVos for answers following a decision to restore recognition of ACICS. In October 2018, Senator Warren and Representative Bonamici called on Secretary DeVos to release documents used in the decision to reinstate ACICS as a federally-recognized accreditor. 
    • In November 2018, Secretary DeVos reversed the decision that had terminated ACIC's recognition. In response, Senator Warren and Representative Bonamici led their colleagues in the Senate and House in calling on Secretary DeVos to rescind ACICS's reinstatement and released new evidence confirming reports that Secretary DeVos had ignored major red flags and cited false information as support for ACICS's reinstatement.
    • Senator Warren and Representative Bonamici also opened an investigation into the sudden collapse of Education Corporation of America, a for-profit college that received a stamp of approval from ACICS. The information Senator Warren and Representative Bonamici's investigation uncovered led the Education Department's Office of the Inspector General, in December 2018, to open an investigation into Secretary DeVos's decision to reinstate ACICS.
    • When President Trump then abruptly dismissed the Education Department's acting inspector general, Senator Warren called him out. The Trump administration back-tracked hours later.