A group of democratic senators wrote to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Tuesday urging her to rescind her decision to reinstate the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) in light of the recent closure of the Education Corporation of America—a chain of for-profit institutions the agency oversaw—and “new evidence that reveals substantial erroneous and misleading information” was included in a report about ACICS that led to its reinstatement.
Last month, Devos announced that she had reinstated ACICS—which the former administration stripped of its federal recognition—based on briefs sent to her from ACICS and the senior department official for the Department of Education (ED), Diane Jones. DeVos wrote that she would be doing so on the condition that the agency prove in the next 12 months that it has demonstrated “full compliance” with the two unresolved items on the list of 19 criteria Jones found to be problematic. The outstanding issues included the fact that the agency “could not demonstrate that new training procedures for volunteers, the new Ethics Review Board (ERB), and its data verification regimes were effective,” as well as issues related to protections against “conflicts of interest.”
The accrediting agency has pressed to have its status reviewed since losing its federal recognition two years ago. ACICS unsuccessfully appealed ED's initial September 2016 decision, and filed a lawsuit shortly after the final decision in December 2016. In March, a federal judge ruled that former Education Secretary John B. King, Jr.'s "decision making process was flawed," and that King and ED failed to consider all relevant evidence, which the judge said violated part of the Higher Education Act (HEA). In a signed order, DeVos said she would consider the additional evidence ACICS submitted in May 2016 before making a final determination.
In Tuesday’s letter, the senators argued that ACICS did not meet another criterion for reinstatement—as it had not been “‘widely accepted’ by the higher education community.” While Jones reported in September that nine accrediting agencies had written letters in support of ACICS to fulfill this requirement, that information turned out to be false, as many of the agencies reported that they did not send any letters. ED then posted a correction to the report, along with letters from one of the original agencies and four new agencies, and Jones marked ACICS to be in compliance with this criteria.
However, the senators wrote that they have uncovered new evidence that ED “again exaggerated and misstated the level of acceptance and support from these agencies.” They wrote that they contacted the five agencies that supposedly endorsed ACICS and discovered that “four out of five of these agencies carefully avoided asserting support, endorsement, or unequivocal acceptance of ACICS as a peer,” adding that all the agencies said they did not review ACICS’s policies or procedures for making decisions regarding whether to grant an institution accreditation, which is required in order to agree that it is “widely accepted,” according to the senators. Instead, the senators wrote, three agencies told them they had not indicated whether they accepted or rejected ACICS, and only noted that they “recognized ACICS as an institutional accreditor” because it was recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
In one of the letters the senators received from the Accrediting Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), the agency wrote that it “is not in the position to judge if another accrediting agency is ‘widely accepted’ as defined in federal law and regulation.” In another letter from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART), the group wrote that “AART does not make statements regarding how ‘widely accepted’ a particular accreditor is.”
“These responses directly contradict the Department’s final decision that states that these accrediting agencies widley accept ACICS as a peer,” the senators wrote. “...The Department’s overstatement descredits the entire review and recognition process and casts significant doubt on the conclusion that ACICS has met the other 18 federal criteria.”
The senators asked that DeVos rescind her decision to reinstate ACICS and demand that Jones issue a new report, as well as provide them with information such as all the documents ACICS submitted in the review process and communications between ED and ACICS regarding endorsements from other agencies, among other resources.
Publication Date: 12/13/2018