Non-Profit Credentialing Agency for Visa Mills Slowly Sinks; Executive Salaries Don't

By David North on January 3, 2024

We have been reporting for years on the slow decline of a credentials-producing entity that allowed marginal colleges to enroll foreign students who were, for the most part, looking for jobs in the U.S., not an education. These schools not only expanded needlessly the number of foreign workers in the country, but the number of subsidized ones in the controversial Optional Practical Training program as well.

The entity we have in mind is the D.C.-based Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), founded in 1912. Today’s question is: What happened to the salaries of the two top officials of that place as ACICS’ income (mostly membership dues) fell from more than $12 million a year in FY 2016 to a little more than a million in FY 2022?

Being an IRS-recognized 501(c)(3) charity, ACICS has to file a detailed financial report, the IRS Form 990, each year, and it lists, among other things, the annual salaries of the top two executives, the captain and the first mate on this slowly sinking ship. The 990s for ACICS can be seen here.

The ship is sinking because the Obama administration tried to put the organization out of business of providing needed credentials to marginal schools; the Trump administration rescued it for a while, and then the Biden administration killed it. (To be able to issue the Form I-20, required for aliens seeking a foreign student visa, a school needs either to be accredited or to present letters from three other institutions saying that they will accept transfers from the school in question.)

Among the many schools once credentialed by ACICS, and now out of business, are: Stratford University and the American College of Commerce and Technology, both in Falls Church, Va., and three others in the San Francisco Bay area: Herguan University, Silicon Valley University, and Tri-Valley University.

ACICS announced in September that it will not appeal the decision of the Department of Education and will dissolve by March 2024.

The figure that follows shows the remarkable fall in income over those years, as institutions once accredited by ACICS either went out of business or found other accrediting agencies acceptable to DoE. It also shows the nearly steady incomes of the two top officials of the slowly dying entity who have been in recent years the CEO and President, Michelle Edwards, and Roxanne Ropko, director of operations.

Executive Compensation Stays Nearly Steady as ACICS’s Income Collapses

Source: CIS calculations from IRS forms 990 filed by ACICS.

Their most recent compensations, according to the most recent Form 990 filed just about a year ago, were:

  • Edwards: $309,670
  • Ropko: $200,390

These two kept nearly steady salaries by dipping into the reserves that ACICS had built up over a century. These reserves dropped from $15.7 million in FY 2016 to $5.8 million in the 2022 report. The likelihood is that there still will be more than a million left when the outfit goes out of business unless the agency leadership does something unusual.

A 501(c)(3) agency dissolving is supposed to turn over its remaining assets to other 501(c)(3) agencies. What will happen in this case?

There are, at most two dozen schools still using the ACICS accreditation at this writing; they have between now and March 1 to find a new accreditor. One of these is Fairfax University of America (formerly Virginia International University), once an institution with more than 1,000 students, mostly foreign, and now reduced to only 17 students. For more on this dying institution, now apparently run by the Muslim Brotherhood, see here.