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Betsy DeVos Reinstates Controversial Gatekeeper of For-Profit Colleges
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=49587"><span class="small">Laura Meckler, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Thursday, 22 November 2018 14:30

Meckler writes: "Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday restored federal recognition to a controversial agency that accredits for-profit colleges and that the Obama administration tried to shut down."

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. (photo: Joshua Roberta/Reuters)
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. (photo: Joshua Roberta/Reuters)


Betsy DeVos Reinstates Controversial Gatekeeper of For-Profit Colleges

By Laura Meckler, The Washington Post

22 November 18

 

ducation Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday restored federal recognition to a controversial agency that accredits for-profit colleges and that the Obama administration tried to shut down, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post.

The move is one in a series of steps DeVos has taken to undo an Obama-era crackdown that she argues unfairly singled out for-profit schools for scrutiny not applied to other colleges. But critics say she is propping up an industry with a track record of misleading students and poor educational outcomes.

In December 2016, the Obama administration ruled that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, known as ACICS, should no longer be allowed to serve as a gatekeeper between colleges and billions of dollars in federal financial aid. It concluded that the agency was incapable of rectifying years of lax oversight and “exhibited a profound lack of compliance” with the “most basic” responsibilities of an accreditor.

But in March, a federal judge ordered DeVos to reconsider that decision, finding that the Obama staff had failed to review thousands of pages of evidence.

A senior Education Department official, Diane Auer Jones, reviewed the record and in September recommended that DeVos reinstate ACICS. She found that the council was out of compliance with two out of 21 criteria but recommended it be given a year to fix those problems. She also recommended monitoring in a handful of other areas.

DeVos agreed and in her decision characterized the Education Department under Obama as having ignored or mischaracterized relevant evidence when ruling that the accrediting agency be removed from the student loan program. DeVos said those recommendations suffered from “circular reasoning” and “a desire to achieve a preordained result.”

In her recommendation, Jones found that ACICS has been asked to make changes and had done so. For instance, it was asked to better monitor job placement by the colleges it accredited, and it implemented a sophisticated system, she said. She also said the prior administration had imposed a double standard — tolerating other accreditors’ failure to catch problems but not this one’s.

And she said the prior administration cited investigations and lawsuits targeting ACICS but not final judgments. “I am concerned that a presumption of guilt guided the decision-making process, and that this sets a troubling precedent,” Jones wrote.

DeVos’s decision was expected to be delivered early Wednesday to ACICS.

For a school to participate in the federal student loan program, it must be accredited by a federally recognized organization. ACICS, once one of the largest national accreditation agencies, was the choice of about 300 for-profit schools, though most found new accreditors after the Obama administration moved to cut off ACICS.

The accreditor’s troubles came to a head in 2015 after it asserted that Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit chain that state and federal authorities said committed fraud, was in good enough standing to get billions of dollars in taxpayer money. The council renewed two of Corinthian’s campuses and authorized a new campus a few months before the Education Department forced the school to close or sell its 120 locations.

In the aftermath of the Corinthian collapse, the Obama administration became increasingly critical of the accrediting process.

In asking DeVos to reconsider ACICS’s standing, the council cited changes it made in response to the concerns. Those include overhauling its collection of school data and a greater focus on student outcomes. In the months before it was ousted, the council heralded increased on-site evaluations, removal of board members with conflicts of interest, new leadership and stepped-up enforcement actions. ACICS’s threat to revoke the accreditation of the for-profit ITT Technical Institute set in motion events that led to its shutdown.

But those efforts failed to quell critics. Liberal lawmakers, state attorneys general and consumer advocates said the accrediting agency allowed schools accused of fraud or possessing abysmal graduation rates to receive millions of dollars in federal loans and grants, despite the risks to students and taxpayers.

The government has depended on private-sector accreditors to be the stewards of federal financial aid, the lifeblood of colleges and universities, since the early 1950s. Each accreditor sets its own standards, which are reviewed by an advisory board at the Education Department, yet the department has no say in how the agencies do their job. Still, the department sets standards and can deny an accrediting agency the recognition it needs to operate.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 22 November 2018 09:56