DeVos Urged to Revive ACICS, Accreditor of Crummy Colleges

By David North, February 27, 2017

If the main immigration policy disputes are being fought on the highway of executive orders and deportations, there is an energetic little scrap taking place in a nearby alley — a battle in which the Trump administration is being urged to take an open-borders position, which would conflict with its overall immigration policy.

This is the long-running conflict about regulating for-profit schools — including low quality schools for aliens and, within that subset, the out-and-out visa mills.

Some forces in the for-profit higher education community are urging that the Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), currently disowned by the U.S. Department of Education for its low standards, be given a reprieve. This would make it much easier for the bottom-of-the-barrel schools to recruit foreign students — students who often do not attend class while they work in the American economy — their objective all along.

The argument from the right is that regulations on for-profit educational institutions should be loosened, generally, and that the banning of ACICS should be reversed. One articulate booster of this idea is William Schipper, president of the tiny, low-prestige American College of Commerce and Technology, which occupies part of a building in Falls Church, Va., a few miles outside of Washington, DC.

Readers of this blog may recall that Schipper is the person who signed off on a flawed financial report for ACCT, one in which the word "interest" was spelled four different ways in five lines of type. Many of those now enrolled at ACCT were previously associated with the University of Northern Virginia, which was of such low quality that it was rejected by the highly tolerant ACICS and subsequently closed by the often passive regulators of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Battle over ACICS. Though incoming Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a known supporter of and an investor in for-profit schools, has it within her power to restore ACICS, that entity has now lost five consecutive rounds of decision-making in four different settings.

Round one: A staff organization within the U.S. Department of Education recommended that ACICS be de-recognized by the department on the grounds of its low standards.

Round two: An advisory committee to the department studied the issue, agreed with the staff report, and recommended to the secretary that ACICS be dropped.

Round three: In the last weeks of the Obama administration, Education Secretary John B. King ruled that ACICS was no longer to be recognized by the department. ACICS went to federal court seeking a reversal of the secretary's position.

Round four: U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton, on December 21, ruled that ACICS could not have the temporary restraining order it sought.

Round five: On February 21, the judge ruled against a preliminary injunction, also sought by ACICS, on the grounds that "the plaintiff ... failed to make a showing of substantial likelihood of success on the merits and the risk of irreparable harm."

No trial date has been set. A financial report filed by ACICS shows it had an investment portfolio of more than $9 million on June 30, 2015, so it can weather a prolonged court battle, even with a diminished, or perhaps demolished, income.

The case number in the electronic reporting system of the courts, PACER, is 1:16-cv-02448-RBW.