HARRISBURG – In the wake of widespread fraud and abuse by predatory for-profit schools, Attorney General Josh Shapiro today formally opposed an application by a national accrediting agency for for-profit colleges and schools to regain its status as an accreditor, following “far-reaching oversight failures” that harmed college students and taxpayers across the country.
The agency, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, accredited 245 colleges and schools that were subjects of state and federal investigations and lawsuits concerning fraud and falsification of job placement rates. Because of the Accrediting Council’s shoddy practices, thousands of students are mired in overwhelming student loan debt they incurred to finance useless educations – while the schools at issue obtained billions of dollars in U.S. tax dollars through student loan revenues.
Attorney General Shapiro, with a coalition of 20 Attorneys General, submitted formal comments today to U.S. Education Department Secretary Betsy DeVos, requesting the Department reject the Accrediting Council’s application for recognition – a status that was terminated just over a year ago due to the Council’s repeated oversight failures.
“The Accrediting Council has a history of failures in its accreditation of colleges and schools – a critical protection for students and families in Pennsylvania and throughout the country,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “As a result of these failures, thousands of college students are saddled with onerous student loan debt that financed useless educations – while these predatory colleges generated billions of dollars in student loan revenues.”
“If Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education won’t protect our students and families from predatory for-profit schools and shoddy accrediting practices, I will,” Attorney General Shapiro said.
According to the Attorneys General comments, the Accrediting Council (ACICS)’s failures include its decision to extend accreditation to schools like Everest Institute, which operated multiple campuses in Pennsylvania. ACICS continued accrediting Everest, even after 20 state and federal agencies initiated investigations of its parent, Corinthian College, right up until the day Corinthian declared bankruptcy.
Because of ACICS’s accreditation, thousands of Corinthian students are mired in student loan debt they incurred to finance useless educations while Corinthian obtained approximately $3.5 billion in U.S. tax dollars through student loan revenues.
Last September, Attorney General Shapiro announced a settlement with Aequitas Capital Management, a now-defunct investment firm, that provides $6.7 million in debt relief for 1,200 Pennsylvanians who attended Everest Institute campuses in Bucks County, Pittsburgh and Indiana County.
Corinthian and Everest are two examples of ACICS’s oversight failures. The Education Department also identified 245 ACICS-accredited campuses that were subjects of state and federal investigations and lawsuits concerning fraud, recruitment abuses, and falsification of job placement rates — all while maintaining their accreditation.
In response to the U.S. Department of Education’s call for comments, Attorney General Shapiro and his fellow Attorneys General called for the Department to reject ACICS’s application for recognition. The Attorneys General note the Department terminated ACICS’s recognition just over a year ago due to ACICS’s pervasive oversight failures, so any attempt by ACICS to become nationally recognized again “should be treated with great skepticism.”
Accreditors serve a critical role in ensuring that schools provide students with an education that meets minimum standards of quality. They function as gatekeepers, protecting students from abuse by institutions that offer education of little-to-no value. When accreditors fail to fulfill this responsibility, they enable abusive schools to engage in misconduct that greatly harms students.
“ACICS’s previous stint as a nationally recognized accreditor provides a stark illustration of the damage done to both students and taxpayers when accreditors fail to fulfill their oversight responsibilities. During these years, ACICS willingly accredited predatory schools that left students across the country mired in debt and without the quality education they were promised,” the comments state.
In addition to Pennsylvania, Attorneys General from California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington also joined today’s comments.
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