Education Committee Democrats Push for Investigation of Reinstatement of ACICS

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter

The ranking members of the Senate and House education committees wrote to the inspector general of the Department of Education (ED) Monday asking for an investigation into Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ decision to reinstate the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).  

The lawmakers—Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee, and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), ranking member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce—wrote that given the recent closure of the Education Corporation of America, a chain of for-profit institutions the agency oversaw, “it appears the Department neglected to examine the accreditor's statutory and regulatory responsibility to assess its institutions’ fiscal and administrative capabilities, as well as their records of compliance with Title IV program responsibilities.”

In light of this development, as well as evidence obtained by another group of democratic senators that showed that a series of letters supposedly supporting ACICS sent from other accrediting agencies included “substantial erroneous and misleading information,” the lawmakers urged ED Deputy Inspector General Sandra Bruce to audit DeVos’ November decision to reinstate ACICS.

The accrediting agency has pressed to have its status reviewed since the former administration stripped it of 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.

Specifically, the lawmakers requested Monday that Bruce examine ED’s “process in analyzing the agency’s compliance with the 21 federal accreditation recognition criteria deemed non-compliant by the previous administration” as well as ED’s consideration of all the evidence before making a final ruling. In her announcement of the reinstatement, DeVos wrote that she found ACICS to have met 19 of the criteria, and that she would be reinstating the agency on the condition that it meet the remaining two in the next 12 months.

“Given the fundamental oversight role of Congress over federal agencies, it is critical that we determine whether the practices, procedures, and evidence used by the Department to grant re-recognition of ACICS were sound,” Murray and Scott wrote.    

According to a POLITICO article published Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for the inspector general yesterday confirmed that the letter has been received and the inspector general intends to conduct a review.


Publication Date: 12/20/2018

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