ACICS Is, Once Again, the Agency That 'Can't Say No' to the Visa Mills

By David North on September 11, 2018

The accrediting agency that used to rubber-stamp the credentials of the visa mills that bring us tens of thousands of third-rate college and grad students from overseas, (most of whom work in the U.S. economy) is at it again.

Many of those jobs, incidentally, are subsidized by the nation's trust funds for our elderly, through the Optional Practical Training Program, and the waiving of payroll taxes, as we have noted previously.

For a time, as we describe below, there was hope that the agency in question had toughened its standards. Not so.

Last week, a total of 20 marginal schools that have been allowed to bring foreign students to this country faced a decision on whether they could renew their accreditations; every one of them survived.

The 20 were part of a larger group of more than 70 lightly regarded educational institutions facing the same question; all of them were given renewals, albeit in some cases with special reporting, or show-cause, requirements. There were no terminations.

The outfit making these decisions, which was on its way to extinction because of low standards, and which was revived by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a devout fan of for-profit educational entities, is the Washington-based Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).

Visa mills are post-high-school educational institutions more focused on giving their foreign students work permits than an education, and are strongly interested in profits for their operators. ACICS had been the traditional grantor of accreditation to many of the visa mills.

Late in the Obama administration, the then-Secretary of Education, after much process, de-recognized ACICS, but gave the school 18 months of grace to find new accreditors. Just before that period expired, Secretary DeVos revived ACICS.

There was some speculation during the grace period that ACICS would change its ways in hope of being revived, as it had played a useful role in the closure of three other somewhat similar institutions over the past year.

These were Silicon Valley University of San Jose, Calif. (which made a "loan" of some $12 million to its departing president), the American College of Commerce and Technology of Falls Church, Va., and BIR Training of Chicago, Ill.

But the precedent of those three closures apparently was disregarded once Secretary DeVos' decision had been made.

The 20 Institutions That Will Stay in Business. The two most obvious of last week's winners were California's Northwestern Polytechnic University — that's the 501(c)(3) entity that routinely produces financial reports showing a 70 percent profit margin — and the controversial Virginia International University, in Fairfax, Va,, which is tied to the Gulen movement, discussed subsequently. For the full text of the decisions see here.

The list that follows are the 20 entities that the Department of Homeland Security allows to issue the I-20 form that leads to an F-1 visa, and that have been accredited only by ACICS in the past, and were given renewed accreditation by ACICS last week. Those that were noted in the previously cited CIS report as having some (or all) of the characteristics of visa mills are marked with an asterisk. In a handful of cases in which the bare-bones ACICS listing had some substantive remarks they are recorded in italics.

  1. Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  2. BAU University, Washington, D.C., (Financial)
  3. Bryan University, Rogers, Ark.
  4. Bryan University, Springfield, Mo.*
  5. California Institute of Advanced Management, Alhambra, Calif., (listed twice)
  6. California International Business University, San Diego, Calif.*
  7. California University of Management and Sciences, Anaheim, Calif.*
  8. College of Business & Technology, Hialeah, Fla.
  9. College of Business & Technology, Miami, Fla.*
  10. Gwinnett College, Lilburn, Ga., (Data Integrity)*
  11. Lincoln University, Oakland, Calif., (not to be confused with the Penn. university)*
  12. Marconi International University, Miami, Fla, (Change of Ownership)*
  13. Merit University, Los Angeles, Calif.
  14. Northwestern Polytechnic University, Fremont, Calif.*
  15. Pacific States University, Los Angeles, Calif.*
  16. Professional Golfers Career College, Temecula, Fla., (see text below)
  17. Schiller International University, Largo, Fla.*
  18. Stratford University, Falls Church, Va., (Data Integrity)*
  19. Stratford University, Glenn Allen, Va.
  20. Virginia International University, Fairfax, Va.*

The Data Integrity decisions are particularly worrisome; they mean that despite ACICS misgivings about the reliability of the outcomes data presented to them, the schools were granted accreditation extensions anyway.

The 21 Ways of Getting to "Yes." While the switch on one's wall either turns the light on, or turns it off, ACICS is a rheostat with at least 21 different ways of indicating that the educational institution in question can continue to be accredited. Its denial mode and terminology were not in sight in the current announcement.

Dealing with the 78 decisions made on both visa-facilitating and non-visa-facilitating institutions, there were 21 categories of extensions of accreditation and a 22nd one that was opaque in its nature. We have noted below seven of the 21, picking up every third one on the list:

  • "Renewal of Accreditation Granted" (four-year-grant);
  • "Inclusion in Institution's Grant of Accreditation" (five-year grant);
  • "Reinstatement of Current Grant of Accreditation";
  • "Continued Inclusion in Institution's Grant of Accreditation" (three-year grant);
  • "Institutional Show-Cause Vacated and Institutional Compliance Warning Issued";
  • "Institutional Compliance Warning Continued";
  • "Removal of Campus from Compliance Warning";

and 14 other, similar formulations.

In addition there was the seemingly ominous "Withdrawal by Suspension (Appealable)".

That decision was laid on the tiny, non-visa-facilitating Camelot College of Baton Rouge, La.; it was the only one of the 22 categories that contained the word "appealable". On the other hand, elsewhere in the report Camelot was placed in the category of "Reinstatement of Current Grant of Accreditation". There were at least six other institutions (on the longer list of 70-plus) placed in two or more categories, all of which amounted to different ways of saying "yes."

My favorite category, again seemingly favorable and a double negative, is "Rescission of Withdrawal by Suspension".

Is the plethora of categories a reflection of an overly complex decision-making progress, or is it a perhaps deliberate device to distract from the apparent policy, at least this time around, of always saying yes to the applicants? Maybe it is both.

Our tabulation of the 78 decisions show that four of them went to overseas operations, 21 to visa-facilitating institutions in the United States, and the rest to U.S. institutions that do not have foreign students.

ACICS and the Turks. One of the ironies within the most recent set of ACICS decisions is how the agency handled two Turkish factions, each of which has its hands on one to many U.S. educational institutions, all involved in international migration.

On one side is the cult of Fethullah Gulen, a conservative Islamic cleric who wants Turkey to return to the ways of the Ottoman Empire. He is living in self-imposed exile in the Poconos and his followers have taken over numerous tax-supported charter high schools; have over-used the H-1B program to bring in, usually from Turkey, large numbers of H-1B teachers (despite the presence of many unemployed U.S. teachers); and have been charged with numerous financial irregularities, such as siphoning off rent moneys from taxpayers to fund the cult's activities, as "60 Minutes" has reported. (It should be noted that none of these charges has resulted in a criminal indictment, or at least not yet.)

Gulen's lead university in the United States is Virginia International University (VIU).

On the other side of the issue are the supporters of the autocratic president of Turkey, once a Gulen ally, Recip Erdogan. He and his allies think that Gulen master-minded the attempted coup in Turkey two years ago.

One of the pro-Erdogan institutions in the United States is the small but handsomely housed BAU University, located within blocks of the White House; I attended a pro-Erdogan seminar there last year.

What follows is probably coincidence, but while ACICS gave VIU a full three-year extension of accreditation, without any special reporting requirements, it ordered BAU to answer a series of tough questions about its funding within the next six weeks.

Apparently an earlier financial report, which ACICS had to pry out of BAU, suggested that the place was running out of money, or as ACICS put it, the school statements "do not evidence financial stability." For a text of the redacted "Show-Cause Directive", see here.

BAU is not a visa mill; while its finances are not transparent, it appears to be an outpost of the Bahcesehir University of Istanbul, which in turn is the central entity of a large Turkish private school system. Normal visa mills do not pay the kind of rent that BAU must be paying in Washington.

My speculation is that BAU/Washington was heavily subsidized by BAU/Istanbul, but because of serious economic problems in Turkey the flow of moneys to D.C. have diminished. Most of the places given accreditation by ACICS are serious money-makers. BAU was the only one whose finances were queried.

When I called Friday to ask the BAU President, Dr. Sinem Vatanartiran, about the school's funding, I was told she was in Istanbul, perhaps (my hunch) trying to raise some money. By the way, there cannot be that many women running Turkish universities.

Of course, ACICS's differential treatment of these two institutions is the least of the problems that Istanbul is having with Washington. There are disputes about Syria, for example, then there is our refusal to extradite Dr. Gulen, and Turkey's arrest of an American cleric on what appears to be trumped-up charges, which led to some economic sanctions.

Three Notes

  1. One of the entities given the least generous treatment, "Extension of Institutional Grant of Accreditation — Extended through December 2018", is the Professional Golfers Career College. Did you know that you can get a nonimmigrant visa to enhance your golf game? I didn't either. ACICS thinks the golf place is located in Temecula, Fla., but it is not; Temecula is in California.
  2. Though 20 of the institutions have foreign-student licenses from the Department of Homeland Security, the ACICS memorandum does not list DHS among its recipients. The memo is addressed to "U.S. Department of Education, State Departments of Education [and] Institutional and Programmatic Accrediting Agencies". This is just another indication of the totally passive role that Homeland Security plays in the licensing of the visa-facilitating educational institutions.
  3. ACICS is located in Washington, D.C. It has picked up one of the practices used by other entities here of delivering bad news at a time when the media is not paying attention. ACICS had told me that the announcement would go up on its website on Friday, September 7; I checked the website every hour or so that day and sometime between 5:00 p.m. and 6:33 p.m. it announced its set of decisions, which had been made the previous month.