In September the U.S. Department of Education announced its decision to end federal recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), the country’s largest national accreditor. ACICS almost immediately notified the Department of its intent to appeal and is expected to file its full appeal directly to Education Secretary John B. King Jr., within the 30 day time frame allowed under the Federal Regulations.

Once the appeal has been filed, the Department’s decision will be temporarily stayed until a decision on the appeal is made. Should the Secretary uphold the Department’s decision, ACICS may then contest the decision in Federal court.

Should Secretary King deny their appeal, schools accredited by ACICS will have their Program Participation Agreement with the U.S. Department of Education immediately placed on provisional status. The expiration date of their PPA will be set (or revised for institutions that are already provisionally certified) based on the end of the 18-month period. Schools will then have 18 months to secure new accreditation to maintain its eligibility for participation in Title IV HEA programs. Contrary to what many believe, the 18 month clock keeps ticking even if ACICS contests the Secretary’s decision in court, unless the time frame is otherwise stayed by the courts.

During this time, the Department may place additional conditions on an institution’s participation such as Heightened Cash Monitoring, and/or requiring a Letter of Credit. Provisionally certified institutions are subject to growth restrictions, so new programs, and new locations will require ED approval first.Institutions are responsible for supporting their students’ educational goals and protecting taxpayer funds. Accordingly, institutions must implement appropriate student protections that ensure students have opportunities to complete their educations and safeguard taxpayer funds.

Seeking Alternative Accreditation

If an institution wishes to become accredited by another federally recognized accrediting agency, the institution must meet all of that new agency’s existing standards to be accredited by that agency. If an agency has received federal recognition for a scope that includes pre-accreditation, by law, public and private nonprofit institutions may be able to pursue that agency’s pre-accreditation process; for-profit institutions are not eligible to seek pre-accreditation.

There is no other allowance for an agency to grant accreditation to any institution without its normal full review process. Institutions cannot be “transferred” or “adopted” from one agency to another. The institution will need to check the scope of the Department’s recognition of the alternative accrediting agency to ensure it supports Title IV participation and would cover all programs it wishes to include in Title IV participation.

Any new accreditor will inquire into the institution’s prior accreditation, including into sanctions, if any, imposed by the previous accreditor. If sanctions were imposed, the Department will expect the institution to provide all materials related to the sanction and demonstrate there is good cause for the Department to accept the new accreditation when the institution applies to the Department for a change of accreditor. Institutions must report their intention of securing alternative accreditation to the Department as soon as they begin the process.

Institutions with questions pertaining to this blog post or other matters of compliance with Accreditation or Federal Student Aid standards are welcome to contact our offices for additional assistance.

Peter Terebesi is the President and founder of Higher Ed Executives. You can find Peter on Twitter (@FSAPete), and reach him through the Higher Ed Executives website. You may also email

As stated in our disclaimers, blog posts by Higher Ed Executives, shared on Twitter, LinkedIn, or elsewhere, should not be considered legal advice. Please consult a qualified advisor.

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