Mild Rapture: A Federal Agency Cracks Down on Crappy Colleges

By David North, December 13, 2016

One of the problems with the current immigration system is that fourth-rate, or even phony, universities can cause the admissions of foreign students who rarely, if ever, visit the classrooms but use their "student" visa status to work in the U.S. I call them visa mills.

The mildly good news is that life for these visa mills will get a little harder, not because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has done anything useful on this front, but because the U.S. Department of Education has.

The person to be praised is the recently appointed, and soon to be displaced, Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr. May some large and respected university choose him for its president!

More specifically, Secretary King (after months of staff work and consultations with a high-level advisory committee) decided on Monday to withdraw federal recognition of a borderline accreditation agency that, in turn, had been accrediting borderline-to-bogus post-secondary educational institutions.

That agency was the Accrediting Council on Independent Colleges and Schools; it dealt primarily with for-profit entities. The department's press release on the action can be seen here.

Many ACICS-accredited institutions had been gobbling up federal (Pell) grants to low-income students who often received third rate educations, at a high cost to both the students and the taxpayers. A smaller number of the entities played the visa mill role.

The reason for the use of the word "mild" in the headline is that it will only indirectly impact the visa mills. What the decision to boot ACICS out of the accreditation business will mean, however, is that, after a while, some of the worst of the for-profit schools, which had been able to obtain accreditation only from ACICS, will be placed in a position where they can no longer use students' Pell Grants. That may shut down many of them.

The impact on the visa mills will only be indirect because of this hard-to-believe-but-true fact about DHS and schools with foreign students: Except for schools for pilots, educational institutions, however marginal, do not need to be accredited by anyone for DHS to give them the power to issue the document (form I-20) which is the precondition for an F-1 student visa.

There is, for example, a DHS-recognized outfit that teaches horseshoeing out West that can cause the creation of F-1 student visas.

Perhaps the sleepiest of the immigration control agencies (there is a lot of competition here) is the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), a unit of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which in turn is part of DHS. SEVP, in effect, licenses schools and colleges to enroll foreign students. If a "college" fills out the application forms properly it then gets the power to create student visas, with rock-bottom continuing oversight. There are more than 8,000 such schools.

Ah, but what does the prospective departure of ACICS do to the visa mills?

It will have a positive effect, but not immediately.

The first blow will be to places like Herguan University in California, a visa mill-like entity once raided by ICE; they will no longer be able to say that they are accredited. That's a downer for them.

Further, the press in India (which follows such things closely, as the big majority of the visa mill students are from that country) may say damaging things, such as the description by the Times of India of Northwestern Polytechnic University (near San Francisco) as a "massive academic ripoff." ACICS, and only ACICS, had accredited NPU. NPU will soon lack even that feeble credential. The Indian media, if not the American, will notice.

Finally, some states, such as Virginia, require their post-12 educational institutions to have accreditation from somebody. That state (my state) finally shut down a notorious visa mill, the University of Northern Virginia, only because it could not secure accreditation from any outfit recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, not even from ACICS. Note that ICE, which had raided the place, did not close it; it left that task to a non-assertive Virginia state agency.

Without an ACICS to support them, other similar and somewhat similar institutions in Virginia and elsewhere may face the same situation. (I have one candidate in mind, but that will be another posting.)