The offices of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are only about 3,000 feet apart in Washington, D.C., and while they are both staunch Republicans, their stands on visa mills are apparently remarkably different.
On April 3, DeVos decided to give America's visa mills an implied vote of confidence, in a decision extending the life of a lax accrediting agency, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), that had sustained these marginal educational institutions.
Late last month, Grassley asked a series of searing questions about the visa mills in a letter to the new Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielson, as we reported earlier.
Visa mills, whose operations can be impacted by both DOED and DHS decisions, are highly profitable entities that provide visas and, indirectly, federally subsidized jobs for lackluster alien students, but offer only third- or fourth-rate educations to their primarily foreign student bodies. They were the subject of a long report by CIS last year.
Meanwhile, three of the four visa mills singled out by Grassley in his questions to DHS have suffered reverses — none at the hands of federal agencies. The setbacks were not mentioned in his letter about them, but supported the tenor of his questions.
The ACICS Decision. Late in the Obama administration, then-Secretary of Education John King ruled that ACICS should no longer be recognized by the department, and he gave the schools that had only ACICS accreditation 18 months to find an acceptable new accreditor or go out of business. That deadline was June 12, 2018.
ACICS sued in federal court seeking re-recognition; the judge last month ordered that the secretary of education had to reconsider the situation, which DeVos is now doing; she has ruled that a previously scheduled DOED advisory committee, scheduled to deal with the matter in May, will not tackle the subject. In the meantime, the marginal schools of concern will not face the June deadline.
This leaves things up in the air or, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reported:
The department's announcement does not necessarily mean she will reverse the decision made under the Obama Administration. But she will consider more options than just the binary choice of either renewing or denying the [ACICS] recognition. And the council will have new opportunities to prove itself to the department, according to DeVos's official order.
Her decision means that the Trump administration's record of doing nothing about the visa mills, while taking many other forward steps in the immigration field, remains unbroken.
The Four Visa Mills Identified by Sen. Grassley. Meanwhile, three of the four visa mills identified by the senator have suffered reverses that were unmentioned in his letter, or that came to light subsequently.
The four are Silicon Valley University and Northwestern Polytechnic University in California, and the University of North America and Stratford University in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.
There is a double shroud around Stratford. It is a for-profit and thus does not issue the financial report required of IRS-recognized charities; and it has secured for itself an exception under Virginia law, so that it does not have to report its finances to state authorities, as other similar schools do. Stratford, in the period 2009-2013, issued five times as many permits for one type of government-subsidized job for foreign alumni as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale combined, as we reported earlier.
The other Virginia entity, the University of North America (UNA), was, according to the state agency regulating such places, having grave difficulty finding another accrediting agency. A report by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia, describing UNA's efforts to secure accreditation from some entity other than ACICS, said this:
Site visits by ACCSC were completed in December 2017. The on-site evaluation report dated February 23 details 22 findings of non-compliance with ACCSC standards of accreditation. It is unlikely the institution will be able to resolve those issues and achieve accreditation by June 12.
The deadline is no longer part of the picture, but the "22 findings of non-compliance" remain a problem for UNA.
Northwestern Polytechnic University's (NPU) problems were of a different nature, but they, too, came from a non-federal source. A group of former students (and their lawyers) have filed a class action suit against the university, which we will write about later, saying that they have been victims of misleading advertising and other inappropriate actions by NPU. It is, to my knowledge, the first class action suit against a visa mill, a welcome development.
The member of Grassley's quartet of questionable schools in the most hot water is Silicon Valley University (SVU) in San Jose, Calif. This is the school, where the departing president helped himself to a non-interest-bearing "loan" of $12.5 million as he retired, as we reported earlier. SVU had such a profit margin (68 percent) that the school's assets still measured about $30 million, even if you do not count the loan.
Totally unrelated to the school's questionable finances, the California agency in charge of such schools, the Bureau of Post-Secondary Education, has filed an "accusation" mentioning a long list of academic failings against SVU. In three-quarters of the cases in recent years in which the Bureau has issued such a document, the school concerned went out of business.
Finally, SVU has experienced something like the fate of the lazy college student who was the only one on the campus to flunk the school's most notorious gut class.
ACICS — yes, the lax accrediting agency discussed above — has decided to revoke SVU's accreditation because, among other things, SVU refused to submit an audited financial statement.
Maybe SVU — given that $12.5 million transaction — did not have a clean audit.
Even the secretary's efforts on behalf of ACICS will not rescue that one.