ACICS Accreditation Affecting College-Bound HS Seniors
ACICS Accreditation Revoked: How College-bound HS Seniors are Affected
The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) formerly served as one of the United States’ major accreditation bodies for private, for-profit colleges. ACICS assesses and accredits institutions that provide postsecondary career-specific courses. But in 2016, it lost the U.S. Department of Education’s recognition as an accrediting agency.
At the time of the initial decision, ACICS had issued accreditation for 237 institutions with nearly 361,000 enrolled students. The U.S. Department of Education recently issued a final decision on August 19, 2022, rejecting an appeal by the nixed national accreditation agency. After review, Deputy Secretary Marten decided to stand by the SDO’s previous determination to terminate ACICS’ recognition as an accredited organization.
The decision to no longer recognize ACICS as a “national accreditation agency” means that schools accredited by ACICS will no longer be eligible to receive federal financial aid funds like the Pell Grant or Stafford Loan. This could have a significant impact on college-bound high school seniors who were planning to attend an ACICS-accredited institution.
Why did ACICS lose accreditation?
The Department’s choice was based on several factors, including ACICS’ financial viability and governance and its inability to effectively oversee the schools it accredits. The Department of Education’s staff report from February 2021 states “ACICS failed to comply with federal recognition criteria, including monitoring institutions for compliance and adequate administrative capability”. The Department’s decision to uphold the 2016 decision to terminate ACICS as a “gatekeeper” of institutional eligibility for federal student aid programs was the last step in its efforts to make sure that the organization could no longer serve as such.
For the remaining 27 institutions, the Department will certify ACICS-accredited schools on a provisional basis so they can keep receiving federal student aid. This certification will last up to 18 months from the Deputy Secretary’s final decision is made. During this 18-month probationary period, schools will need to obtain accreditation from other nationally recognized accrediting agencies in order to continue participating in federal student aid programs.
What impact will accreditation changes have on schools?
Federal student loans and grants allow students to attend college who otherwise may not be able to due to economic status. That aid can only be used at a school that is accredited by a “recognized” accrediting agency or accreditor. It’s one of the mechanisms designed to protect taxpayers and students. Accreditation is a sign to students, families, and the Department of Education that a school provides a high-quality education that is worthy of the support of taxpayer dollars.
Accreditors are under a legal obligation to ensure that schools obtain their approval, and officials at the Department of Education devote significant time and resources to collaborating with them on maintaining high standards, conducting rigorous monitoring, and where appropriate, recommending the revocation of accreditation when an agency does not live up to its responsibilities. Unfortunately, there have been recent cases of schools receiving their accreditation approvals despite misleading or defrauding pupils, providing students with substandard education, or shutting down suddenly without adequate preparation and support for kids. Some of these examples include
- Stratford University, Falls Church, VA
- California International Business University, San Diego, CA
- Miller-Motte Technical College, Clarksville, TN
When fraud and instability exist in an institution, it generally leads to many students being unable to complete their studies and unable to reclaim their money from the low-quality education they received.
While the Department does not judge whether particular institutions will be granted approval by an accrediting agency, it does examine which organizations are recognized to evaluate schools participating in federal financial aid programs. The Department examines accreditation agencies on a regular basis to ensure they are fulfilling their responsibilities in recognizing the quality of a school.
How will ACICS Accreditation Affect College-bound High School Seniors?
For any college-bound high school senior considering attending one of the remaining 27 schools that still hold ACICS accreditation, you should be aware that receiving federal assistance like Pell Grants will not be available. If the school you’re interested in can get accreditation from another organization that the Department of Education recognizes, then its funding availability may change. To clarify, you should check the school’s accreditation before enrolling to ensure that federal financial assistance is accessible to you.
If you’re a high school senior looking to go to an ACICS-accredited institution without depending on any federal funding program and are prepared to pay your tuition without relying on government aid, enrolling in these programs should not have a negative impact on you. However, if you wish to select a different college that has accreditation from an agency recognized by The Department of Education, then this may be the safest option.
The remaining 27 schools accredited by ACICS should be avoided by high school seniors looking to attend a quality, federally-funded school. Instead, these students should look into the Department of Education’s list of recognized accrediting agencies to find a school that will provide them with the best possible education and future opportunities. With better access to funding and more oversight in terms of how a school operates, it is clear that choosing a school that has obtained accreditation through a recognized accreditor is the best option for high school seniors.