Department of Education Agrees with CIS on Two Marginal Colleges

By David North on January 20, 2020

[Editor's note, 2/5/2020: This posting has been revised in two places to reflect a helpful note from an attorney for the university in question, Ronald L. Holt, and to describe more precisely the institution's accreditation status. A somewhat similar revision can be found in an earlier posting published on January 17 entitled "The Dos and Don'ts of Handling Immigration Law Enforcement Tips". The full text of Mr. Holt's letter can be seen here.]

Not since the end of the Obama administration have I been able to report that the U.S. Department of Education has moved against one or more of those marginal colleges that major in foreign students, or that it sought to stiffen accreditation requirements for those schools.

The students of such places get educations of varying value, but (at the master's level and beyond) instantly on admission obtain official credentials allowing them to work in the United States. Most of them secure subsidized employment in the Optional Practical Training program. Some of these places admit anyone who applies.

A stern departmental letter to the often all-too-tolerant Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) has just surfaced, one that focuses precisely on two such schools that have been criticized in the past by the Center for Immigration Studies.

The two schools in question are Virginia International University (VIU) in the D.C. suburbs, which we have written about frequently (see here and here), and San Diego University of Integrative Studies (SDUIS), which we discussed earlier this month.

VIU, which has been associated with the Islamic cult of Fethullah Gulen, a self-exiled Turkish cleric, has long had difficulty with regulators. Meanwhile, an on-campus affiliate of the San Diego University of Integrative Studies, the USA English Language Center, had claimed on its website that it was accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET), when in fact an ACCET panel had unanimously voted against re-accreditation of that entity. SDUIS has sued ACCET over this matter.

We called the ACCET matter to the attention of California regulators and the reference to ACCET on the website was subsequently removed. [We earlier reported incorrectly that the ACCET decision was made about SDUIS itself, rather than its affiliate, and regret the error. SDUIS is licensed to operate in the State of California but claims no accreditation.]

As background, schools that admit foreign students are more or less regulated by a bewildering set of institutions, including by accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, by state agencies, and (rarely) by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Education, under Secretary Betsy DeVos, reversed an earlier decision by the Obama administration that would have de-recognized ACICS; the earlier ruling was made on the grounds that ACICS had been too tolerant of failing institutions of higher education.

Despite this history, on November 21 of last year, the Department of Education sent a six-page, detailed letter to Michelle Edwards, president of ACICS, complaining about credentialing decisions made in favor of the two schools. It was signed by Herman Bounds Jr., Ed.S., director of the department's Accreditation Group, and can be seen here.

The letter, in great detail, criticized ACICS decisions regarding VIU's continuing accreditation by that agency, and its treatment of SDUIS's application for accreditation, saying that the treatment of the two entities had been in conflict with ACICS' own rules; ACICS was ordered to "address the compliance concerns noted in this letter", and to do so by February1. [In the earlier posting we implied that SDUIS had already secured accreditation from ACICS, which is not the case; it is an applicant for ACICS accreditation.]

It will be interesting to see what happens next.

I am grateful to an eagle-eyed informant for telling me about the letter; that person does not want to be recognized by name.