Today is the last day for one of the marginal universities we have been writing about for years, schools that, shall we say, major in foreign students and have had accreditation problems for a long time. Three other schools in the same class — all in the state of Virginia — are threatened by the same set of events.
The school closing today is the private, for-profit Stratford University, which at one point several years ago had 10 times as many graduates in the controversial federal Optional Practical Training (OPT) program as Harvard University. OPT workers are recent alien graduates of American universities; their employers get an 8 percent tax break for hiring them, instead of citizen or green card workers (because they don't pay payroll taxes), an odd arrangement amounting to government-subsidized discrimination against Americans.
Stratford, once a multi-campus operation, was old enough and well-connected enough to have obtained state legislation that meant it was free of regulation by the state entity controlling other universities, the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV). It continued to need accreditation (another process), however, which it secured from the Washington-based Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).
This now gets complicated: ACICS can operate only if it is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Since the entity had, according to many critics, rather low standards — once accrediting a school that had no students, no campus, and no classrooms — it was nearly put out of business by the Obama administration and then rescued a year or so later by Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. The Biden administration, like Obama, has decided that ACICS should not operate and has given its accredited schools 18 months to find new accreditors, but this time with an additional twist that proved fatal to Stratford.
The new provision, laid on all ACICS schools, is that — until a new accreditor is found — the schools must not enroll any new students who can’t complete the academic program within 18 months. Since Stratford has no endowment and routinely gets 40 percent of its income from new students, according to Higher Ed Dive, it opted to go out of business.
As we reported some time ago, Stratford antagonized ACICS when it opened a branch campus in Iraq without getting ACICS permission, as ACICS rules demand. The two losers were locked in a court battle over this issue, but the case was subsequently settled out of court.
While the demise of Stratford is clear, the fate of the other three troubled schools in Virginia is not known. Each has been accredited by ACICS, each has over a year to get accredited by someone else, and each faces the restrictions on receiving payments from some new students. Will they make it through this process?
The three are: the nonprofit Fairfax University of Virginia, (once Virginia International University), an affiliate of the Turkey-centered Gulen movement and more recently seemingly taken over by allies of the Muslim Brotherhood; the nonprofit California University of Management and Science – Virginia; and the for-profit University of North America. All operate in the suburbs of Washington in northern Virginia.
Schools like these generally offer most of their classes in the evening or on weekends; since most of the alien students are in graduate school, they can start working — with a federal subsidy — as soon as they enroll, thus creating a legal way for an alien to come to the U.S. and start working immediately.
The reader will note that there has been no mention here of the DHS operation supervising alien students, the Student Exchange Visitor Program of ICE. SEVP has in recent years become a passive agency that plays an extremely minor role in the supervision of foreign student programs.