- The Education Department is updating a draft letter it first issued last month in support of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), in which it deemed the for-profit accreditor to be in compliance with 19 of 21 required standards for federal recognition.
- As Politico reported, the letter named endorsements from four national and five regional accreditors that many said they never made — something the department attributed to "an inadvertent error in the editing process."
- One of the federal standards is to be "widely accepted" in higher education, which the letter said ACICS met, and such endorsements would be considered evidence of that. Whether the accreditor met the requirement was disputed by the Obama administration in 2016 and by the Education Department earlier this year.
- The updated version of the letter will cite endorsements from five smaller accreditors, which primarily oversee program-level accreditation and not entire colleges. One group, the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, was named in the original and updated letter.
That letter effectively put ACICS back on track to federal recognition after the Education Department under Secretary Betsy DeVos twice delayed the decision.
The department temporarily reinstated the group's federal recognition earlier this year for the duration of a review of additional documents that it said the department under the Obama administration overlooked when it pulled back ACICS' federal recognition in 2016. ACICS has one year to fulfill the remaining two of 21 required criteria.
ACICS was the accreditor for ITT and Corinthian Colleges, two for-profit chains whose high-profile collapses contributed to a crackdown on the sector by the Obama administration. In December 2016, the Education Department terminated federal recognition for ACICS, which at that point oversaw 269 institutions enrolling 527,000 students, according to federal data cited by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-leaning policy institute.
CAP noted that as of early 2018, the majority of formerly ACICS-accredited institutions were in the process of obtaining or had already obtained new accreditation. From April 2017 to January 2018, 13 of those institutions, enrolling more than 24,000 students combined, closed, with roughly half attributed to Corinthian Colleges locations that were shuttered by the company's new owner.
Going forward, the Education Department plans to reduce compliance requirements for accreditors, saying that in doing so it hopes to support new and innovative educational models. Critics of that approach say more consistency is needed in how accreditors currently gauge and standardize performance across institutions of different sizes, locations and affiliations.