Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it will hold a May meeting to help decide whether the problematic accrediting agency Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) should again be allowed to grant access to federal financial aid. In late 2016, the agency lost its ability to act as a gatekeeper to federal student aid—shortly after a Center for American Progress analysis showed that, for years, it had been little more than a rubber stamp for failing colleges.
Making the announcement more troubling is the fact that a new data review shows that if ACICS makes a comeback, it will be serving schools that seem to have drawn little interest from other accreditors. This suggests two things: First, contrary to attention-grabbingreports, most of the affected schools—and the students they enroll—appear to have already moved on or at least have a clear path to being considered by another accreditor. Second, the Education Department’s announcement raises questions about whether there is value in bringing back an accreditor that only approves schools that did not find acceptance from peer agencies.
ACICS’ loss of gatekeeper recognition in 2016 kicked off a process that gave the schools it oversaw 18 months—until June 12, 2018—to find a new agency. Based on CAP analysis of public documents from accreditation agencies as well as institutional websites, it appears that the vast majority of ACICS institutions now fall into one of the following categories:
- They have already obtained new accreditation elsewhere.
- They recently reached the final review step at a new accreditor or are scheduled to reach that step before June 2018.
- They have closed or announced plans to close.