Finally, the feds move to fire an incompetent watchdog over for-profit colleges
California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris exposed how Corinthian Colleges targeted vulnerable students in 2013. Corinthian later went out of business, and now its accreditation agency is in hot water. (AP)
Much of the world turns on paper credentials. But the fact that these often aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on has been spotlighted by the accreditation scandal in the for-profit college business. Scores of campuses have been given a seal of approval by accreditation agencies despite coming under state or federal investigation for fraud.
The federal government is preparing to bring down the hammer on one of these toothless watchdogs. Its target is the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which is renowned for maintaining its accreditation of Corinthian Colleges right up to the day that chain of for-profit schools ceased operating in April 2015. Corinthian filed for bankruptcy days later. ACICS accredits some 900 campuses across the nation, giving those schools the formal imprimatur that allows them to collect an estimated $5 billion a year in federal financial aid on behalf of their students.
But its role may be ending. The Department of Education staff on Wednesday recommended the revocation of ACICS’s recognition as an accreditation body. That means that schools bearing its seal of approval will have to find a new accreditation body within 18 months or lose their right to collect federal financial aid payments.
The department’s recommendation isn’t the last word. The next step belongs to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which will meet next week. The decision ultimately will be rendered by Secretary of Education John King. But things look bad for ACICS; the department staff says it has fallen short on nearly two dozen issues or problems and doesn’t seem equipped to “remedy its compliance issues.”
ACICS has been pedaling furiously to stave off extinction. On June 6, it said it wouldsuspend new accreditations until it can get its house in order. But the Education Department staff recommendation implies it’s moving too late.
The ACICS case underscores the drawbacks of governmental outsourcing of its regulatory authority to outside agencies, especially self-regulatory bodies. These bodies often are dependent for revenue on the very institutions they oversee, which tends to file down their sharp teeth when confronted with the need to bite down hard on a fee-paying target. The phenomenon typically leads to abuses going unaddressed, as happened with credit-rating agencies such as Standard & Poor’s, which has been accused of giving high ratings to deeply impaired mortgage securities in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis.
For consumers, accreditation seals of approval can look like reliable shortcuts to the checking that individuals should do for themselves. Students interested in Lincoln Technical Institute’s vocational programs, for instance, might be comforted by the word on its website that it’s accredited by ACICS, “one of the most respected, established national accreditors of academic institutions in the United States.” They would be hard-pressed to learn that Lincoln settled a lawsuit last year brought by the Massachusetts attorney general alleging it gave applicants for its criminal justice program bogus data about job placement by its graduates. The school settled for $850,000 without admitting the charges and forgave $165,000 in private student loans.
ACICS has become exhibit A for lax oversight. As documented earlier this year by Finally, the feds move to fire an incompetent watchdog over for-profit colleges - LA Times:
Big Education Ape: Who Keeps Billions of Taxpayer Dollars Flowing to For-Profit Colleges? These Guys - ProPublica - http://go.shr.lc/1tAxRDd