Within the next few days, an obscure, non-governmental agency is expected to make some major decisions in the immigration field. It might:
- reduce the yearly admissions of perhaps 5,000 under-qualified foreign students;
- create an equal number of jobs for Americans;
- prevent the loss of tens of millions of dollars from the Medicare and Social Security systems, by
- closing two low-ranking American colleges, or visa mills.
Or it might do the reverse.
That a non-governmental agency is making such decisions relates to the casual way that the U.S. government manages (or presides over) the admission of foreign students. Decisions on which colleges and universities have the right to issue the visa-creating I-20 documents are left largely to state agencies and to the obscure non-governmental entity we referred to above, the Accrediting Council for Independent Schools and Colleges, ACICS. This is an organization that passes judgement on private, for-profit educational institutions and was created by the industry it more or less regulates.
In this connection, a month ago we wrote a CIS posting about "How Betsy DeVos Can Save Jobs for Americans and End a Raid on Social Security".
The Secretary of Education could meet those two goals, we wrote, by putting ACICS out of business; that agency had given the green light in the past to visa mills that cause the admission of marginal foreign students. The latter are more interested in the federally subsidized jobs that they can gain with those visas than they are in getting an education.
The subsidies, in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, are open only to foreign alumni of American colleges (both excellent ones and the visa mills); they cannot be used by citizens or green card holders. The subsidies take the form of excusing the foreign grads (and their employers) from paying the usual payroll taxes, about 8.25 percent, which fund the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds. (That these funds are used by our government to subsidize employers who prefer foreign college grads over American ones is an outrage waiting to happen.)
ACICS had been de-recognized under the Obama administration for the laxness of its rules. Secretary DeVos had the opportunity to keep ACICS out of business, but she decided to give it another chance.
The secretary's decision was not unexpected. She is probably the most devoted supporter of private-sector, including for-profit, education of anyone who has held her position.
But, in one of those laws-of-unintended-consequences incidents, she may have (totally accidentally, I am sure) actually helped to control the growth of the visa mills. Why is this a possibility?
Well, one way that ACICS could restore some credibility would be to stiffen its standards, so that it could say to those interested: "See, we can be trusted to root out the worst of the post-high-school education abusers." I have no way of knowing if this is part of the ACICS thought process, but it is reasonable to assume that it might be.
Those pending decisions. This brings us back to the pending decisions, to be announced soon by ACICS. They involve petitions for continued accreditation filed by two of the largest of the surviving visa mills, Virginia International University in Fairfax, Va., and Northwestern Polytechnic University in Fremont, Calif. If ACICS concludes, as I think it should, that these are not real universities, ACICS would prevent them from admitting thousands of marginal foreign students, prevent those students from taking jobs that could be filled by legal residents of this country, and prevent the loss of millions from the trust funds for the elderly.
Will ACICS see the situation that way? We will know soon.
Meanwhile, the signs are positive. In recent months ACICS has made three decisions to deny accreditation to other visa mills. In two of the three cases the schools have been closed, and we are waiting to see the outcome with the third. ACICS has not been bragging about these decisions, and I have seen no reporting on what may become a trend, if a highly specialized one.
Let's look at these five institutions, the three where decisions have been made and then the pending two, all of which had accreditation from ACICS, and only ACICS.
1. The American College of Commerce and Technology (ACCT), in Falls Church, Va., lost its ACICS accreditation, did not choose to appeal that decision (thus confirming that decision), had also run into intense scrutiny by State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), an arm of state government, and was then closed by Virginia state authorities effective December 30, 2017.
We are getting into some double negatives here: since ACICS was not then recognized by the federal Department of Education (DoEd), its negative decision on ACCT was regarded as not relevant by the state. Both decisions ran in the same direction, however.
2. Silicon Valley University (SVU), in San Jose, Calif., had its ACICS accreditation revoked on December 7, 2017. It failed to close, however, until we informed the state that it was still operating; a couple of days later it shut its doors, apparently on the state's orders. This is the visa mill in which the retiring president gave himself a $12.5 million (apparently no-interest) loan on the way out the door.
In both Virginia and in California an institution needs accreditation by a DoEd-recognized accreditation agency in order to secure the state license. Some states don't have that requirement, nor does the Department of Homeland Security.
3. While the Center had not named the institution, as we had no independent data and our source wanted to remain anonymous, we now can reveal that our posting on an unnamed visa mill in Chicago related to the BIR Training Centers. The four BIR Training Centers were denied a renewal of accreditation by ACICS on April 19; this decision is appealable to its Review Board of Appeals.
4. Virginia International University (VIU), in Fairfax, Va., is on the ACICS list for renewal or non-renewal of accreditation, with the decision scheduled to take place in "Winter 2018". BIR Training is on the same list and a decision on it has been made, as noted above. We understand that the ACICS decision was postponed when a former member of the VIU board provided ACICS with some new information on VIU.
VIU, as we have noted before, is connected to the conservative Islamic cult run by self-exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. We gather that it has reduced its staff lately, apparently reflecting lower revenues, and that it has been forced by SCHEV to file a "teachout" plan in case it has to close. These plans ensure, for the benefit of the students, an orderly termination of their educational programs. Such a mandate (imposed earlier on ACCT) is not a happy sign regarding VIU's institutional health.
5. Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU) is in the same position with ACICS as is VIU. It is on the "Winter 2018" list of decisions to be made, and if anything, is in more trouble. This is the case because the process by which ACICS decided to renew its accreditation a few years ago was the subject of a blistering expose by BuzzFeed.
The subhead for Molly Hensley-Clancy's BuzzFeed article was: "How one California University faked students' scores, skated by immigration authorities – and made a fortune in the process."
NPU is also on the receiving end of a class action lawsuit contending that a number of students had been hurt by the school's policies. I think this is the first and only use of the class action technique against one of the visa mills.
One of the ironies of all this is that Secretary DeVos' decision to continue the life of ACICS, at least for a while, means that its decisions made on specific visa mills – previously irrelevant because ACICS was not recognized by DoEd -- suddenly have significance, and some visa mills have suffered thereby.
What's next? I am no fan of either ACICS or most of for-profit higher education, but if ACICS confirms its denial of BIR Training Centers, and terminates the accreditation for VIU and NPU – and maybe some other visa mills – it will have made a series of sound decisions and will have strengthened its own case for staying alive.
Further, Secretary DeVos can chalk up a sound public policy decision, if only by accident.