PhotoThe end may be near for the organization that issues accreditations to for-profit universities. Department of Education staff members who have been investigating the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) have recommended cutting ACICS' federal recognition. 

“The staff recommendation is to withdraw recognition, which would mean the agency could not remedy its compliance issues,” the staff report said, charging that the ACICS had ignored warning flags at Corinthian Colleges, allowing billions of dollars of federal aid to flow to the now-defunct schools.

The report follows calls for action from consumer advocates, educators, and state attorneys general, including California's Kamala Harris who earlier this month said the accrediting group's actions hurt thousands of students. 

"The predatory scheme devised by executives at Corinthian Colleges, Inc. was unconscionable. And despite enforcement actions by the California Department of Justice and the federal government against Corinthian, ACICS continued to accredit Corinthian, hurting thousands of students in the process,” Harris said. “Students relied on Corinthian’s accreditation status, believing they were obtaining a high quality-education with real job prospects."

The staff report found “extensive and pervasive deficiencies” at ACICS and recommended to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) that it terminate the organization’s federal recognition.

But the wheels grind slowly in federal agencies, and final action is still likely to be at least 18 months away, a DOE official said. A federal advisory body will discuss the staff report next week and additional reviews will follow.

What happens to students?

ACICS currently accredits 243 institutions, most of them for-profit schools. If the Education Department finally denies recognition to ACICS, those schools will be unaccredited and ineligible for federal aid.

In a blog posting, Matt Lehrich, communications director at DOE, said students at ACICS-accredited schools shouldn't panic.

"The chain of events that plays out next will take – at minimum – more than 18 months. That means that many of the students who already have started at one of these schools will be able to complete their certificates or degrees before there is a chance of anything changing," Lehrich wrote.

"Generally speaking, if you’re near the end of your program or you’re preparing to transfer to another college or university, this news probably won’t interrupt your program."

Lehrich has other advice for students in his blog posting, which you can read here

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