California Visa Mill Gets Accreditation, but with Caveats

By David North on May 8, 2018

Contrary to the hopes of education and immigration reformers, a hugely profitable visa mill in San Jose, Calif., Northwestern Polytechnic University, recently had its accreditation extended by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).

NPU is probably the most profitable visa mill in the country; although nominally a 501(c)(3) charity, it made a profit of over $53 million in the last year reported, on a gross of just under $73 million. This is a profit margin of 73 percent, a margin rarely seen outside the cocaine trade.

NPU's students are attracted more by their access to student visas and, via the Optional Practical Training program, to government-subsidized jobs than they are by the prospect of an education.

The NPU extension happened despite the fact that ACICS, according to some observers, was endangering its own role as a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency by making decisions such as this one. For more on ACICS and its role with visa mills see this earlier posting. ACICS, dumped by the Obama administration for its lax standards, was recently given a new lease on life by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, known for her enthusiastic views on for-profit education.

NPU's extension came with one major and one minor caveat. The more important one was its length; it was given till the end of this year, a period of a little more than eight months; most ACICS extensions are for five years. The lesser one was a "compliance warning" about the lack of some required reports.

ACICS is about to make another accreditation decision regarding what used to be a large visa mill, Virginia International University, in Fairfax, Va. I have been told by ACICS's president that this decision will be made known by May 12.

VIU is one of the three Gulen-related higher education institutions in the nation. They are part of the conservative Muslim cult led by the self-exiled Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen. We gather, informally, that the school has suffered financial reverses recently and has laid off several members of its staff. Its current website shows that in the year ending December 7, 2017, its student body plummeted from 1,021 students to 410. It has been ordered by the Virginia state regulatory agency to sign a "teach-out agreement" with another university, to allow its students to transition should it lose its license.

Universities typically raise money from their alumni; VIU is trying that, too. It has a goal of raising one million dollars from 1,000 alumni. Its website reports that, so far, it has gifts from three of them, totaling $1,751; these are reported as 0.3 percent and 0.1751 percent of their respective goals. (Why anyone would document such a failure so clearly is a puzzle to me; there are no regulations demanding that such information be reported on the website.)

None of these facts would seem to be favorable indications for VIU's future.

Meanwhile ACICS has issued a set of warning orders to three other institutions that rely heavily on foreign students and that have, at the last count, no accreditor other than ACICS. The most serious of these warnings appears to be directed at the California University of Management and Science, which has campuses in Anaheim, Calif., and Arlington, Va. This one is a "continued compliance warning", which is more serious than a "compliance warning" and deals with a series of ownership, management, and educational issues.

In addition, there have been two warnings issued to Stratford University in Falls Church, Va. Some years ago Stratford — despite the fact that it is a very obscure entity — had more Optional Practical Training subsidies lined up for its alumni than all eight of the Ivy League universities combined.

An institution dealing with foreign students, but of a different kind, is Bau University in Washington, D.C. It is located in a plush building a few blocks from the White House and is apparently funded by one of Turkey's richest corporations; it, too, is accredited only by ACICS, and is not part of the Gulen operation.

It has, however — for a period of time — not provided its annual financial report to ACICS, a kind of demand not expected, perhaps, in Turkey. ACICS has issued a show cause order threatening suspension of accreditation if the financial report is not received by the end of May. The lack of a financial report by another, quite different institution, Silicon Valley University, caused ACICS to withdraw its approval, and that led to the institution's closing.