Failing Accreditation Agency to Visa Mills Gets New President

By David North on July 20, 2017

It looks like the days are numbered for the accreditation entity that has facilitated the existence of many student-visa mills.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), which granted accreditation to scores of marginal institutions, was de-recognized by Obama's Department of Education (DoEd) on December 16, 2016, and it has been struggling to stay alive ever since, filing a court case against the DoEd in the process. Among those marginal schools was the now-shuttered Herguan University, which was closed by the Department of Homeland Security on the grounds that it facilitated legal entries for aliens more interested in getting into the United States on student visas than in seeking an education.

The reason for the DoEd decision: ACICS for years was too lax in its accreditation policies, allowing a number of marginal institutions to provide expensive but largely useless training to their students, students often funded by federal grants. It was equally lax regarding the visa mills, though this was not stated at the time.

A further indication of ACICS's troubles came to my attention in May when the DoEd, now under the leadership of the Trump administration, filed a legal brief calling for the continued de-recognition of the entity. There were concerns that new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, known as a strong supporter of for-profit education organizations, would undo the ACICS de-recognition decision. Apparently that's not the case, unless DoEd's lawyers were not in sync with the secretary.

Another sign of trouble is the revolving leadership of ACICS. It has had four presidents or interim presidents in a period of 15 months. The longtime president, Albert Gray, resigned in April 2016; then there were two interim leaders, apparently drawn from inside the organization; and then, on July 11, 2017, the latest one came on board. She is Michelle Edwards, who was previously chairwoman of the ACICS board.

An organization in trouble, like this one, might reach out to a distinguished former college president or a retired federal judge or prosecutor, someone with an impeccable record even if not familiar with the industry, who would promise to clean house, eliminate all the past bad practices, and reform the entity.

Challenging though the task might be, the compensation would be good. In its latest Form 990 filing with the IRS, ACICS reported that it had nearly $17 million in net assets and it was paying its president, then Gray, $279,604 a year plus an estimated $46,213 in "other benefits". But ACICS did not choose to go this route with any of the three most recent CEO's. Edwards, in addition to her ACICS board membership, is the president of the Delta School of Business and Technology, a.k.a. Delta Tech, a for-profit institution in the small town of St. Charles, La.

A quick review of Delta Tech's website was not inspiring for three reasons:

  1. Delta Tech has no accreditation beyond that of ACICS itself;
  2. Delta Tech's website says it is approved by "United States Department of Justice, Immigration's and Naturalization Service for Training Foreign Students"; and
  3. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program website, which identifies schools that may admit nonimmigrant students, does not list Delta Tech by either its full name or by a shortened one.

Ignore for the moment the extraneous apostrophe in the name of INS (a mistake that must have been on the website for a long time since INS has not existed since 2003) and simply note that the school appears to be bragging about a power — to admit foreign students — that it apparently lacks.

A phone call to the school also was not reassuring. I asked if the institution accepts international students and was told by the person answering that she was not sure, that it was a small school, and that it had a few of them in the past. I asked to speak to the admissions office and was told that could not be done, but that if I left a name and a phone number I would get a call back. I did as requested, but have yet to hear back.

Maybe Delta Tech provides excellent vocational training and maybe Edwards is a dynamic leader, but you can't tell from the school's website.

All of this suggests an organization on its way to extinction and it raises a related question: What happens if a 501(c)(3) goes out of business with $17 million in assets? Who gets the money? Or does it turn to another field of endeavor, as the March of Dimes did following the defeat of polio?