Without accreditation, it’s tough for a college to attract any students. So it’s a big deal that the U.S. Department of Education is threatening to close an agency that provide accreditation to many of the for-profit schools in the U.S.
Older private and state schools across the country are virtually all accredited by a regional accreditation groups like the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, some of which have existed since the 1920’s. Many students don’t understand that these regional groups are far more highly respected than the national ones that have emerged in recent years (though an exception would be the specialized national accrediting groups in areas like nursing education).
Accreditation has long been a pretty boring topic. But it got much saucier in recent times with revelations about the recruiting tactics of some for profit schools. The most extreme example, perhaps, is that of FastTrain College of Miami, which used strippers to entice male students to enroll, even though many of them did not have high school diplomas.
FastTrain closed in 2012, but not before obtaining over $6 million in student aid from the government (it’s former owner is now in jail). The school’s ability to get federal aid was based largely on it’s accreditation from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). Now ACICS is in trouble, not just because of FastTrain, but because of it’s involvement with Corinthian, a for-profit chain that closed on the heals of a recruiting scandal, and ITT Education Services, which is currently in a process of collapse.
A committee of the U.S. Department of Education will shortly meet to determine if the ACICS will be allowed to continue to accredit schools. Some for-profit schools have accreditation from the older more respected agencies, but a closure of ACICS would undoubtedly send a shock wave through the for-profit sector.
Not mentioned in many of the reports on ACICS’s problems is one of the key reasons it has been allowed to fly below the radar for so long: the entire higher education sector fears any government intervention in the accreditation system. Although the older accreditors generally enjoy good reputations, the regional accreditation system is generally a disorganized, antiquated system that lacks transparency. As a presidential candidate, Marco Rubio spoke repeatedly of a need for reform the accreditation system.
Many of those at America’s most respected schools fear that changes in accreditation, and the possibility that they might be hit with a “gainful employment” rule that’s been applied only to for-profit schools until now, could force them into making significant changes in the way they operate.