Loss of accreditor reverberates at for-profit colleges

At least one for-profit college has shut its doors after the Department of Education stripped its accrediting body of its ability to operate.

Sage College, a 350-student legal training school in Moreno Valley, California, recently announced it was closing, citing the formal revocation in December of the authority of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).

The ACICS was the main accreditation body for the for-profit sector. It has filed an appeal in federal court, but failed to secure an interim injunction.

Schools have 18 months to find another accreditation agency, though they will have to abide by more rigorous standards. Sage College did not apply for certification that would allow it to remain open.

Mary Clare Reim, of the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, told the Higher Education Tribune that the action came as a surprise because it has never been done before.

“I find it an interesting move, but it is just another move to adversely affect the for-profit sector,” she said.

Reim, a research associate with deep education experience, said that while colleges have time to find new certification, she is not aware of a body that might easily fill the gap left by the ACICS. Most colleges affected by the decision accepted provisional certification from the education department.

Robert Rasha, Sage College’s former chief technology officer, told the San Diego Tribune that he did not know why the school did not accept the government’s offer of provisional certification, especially since the owners had indicated earlier that they would do so.

Rasha said he believes the owners were concerned about meeting the new standards, but expected another accrediting agency to approve the school in the future.

Reim said she is uncertain how the incoming Trump Administration and its pick for Secretary of Education, Betty DeVos, will approach higher education issues.

“But given her history with school choice, the logic would naturally follow in supporting more student-centered options, allowing students to pursue more technical, career-focused options,” Reim said.

DeVos is a strong proponent of K-12 choice.

In announcing the move against ACICS, Secretary of Education John King said it had "exhibited a profound lack of compliance” with its responsibilities as an accreditor. Officials cited the closures of ITT and Corinthian Colleges, and a federal investigation into others for deceptive and abusive practices.

ACICS filed an appeal in federal court in Washington, arguing that political pressure was to blame for the department's action, which “consistently ignored the facts” as it evaluated the council’s petition to renew its accreditation powers.

According to a report by Courthouse News, the ACICS claims that a department staff report on the petition “bears the hallmarks of having been subjected to the irregular and unprecedented involvement of individuals outside the Department of Education’s accreditation group.”

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