ACICS RIDERS TO APPROVE EXTENSION STRIPPED FROM OMNIBUS

The Omnibus spending bill introduced earlier this week was lauded as a win for students and colleges and heralded by higher ed advocates because it contained large increases in funding for a number of important federal financial aid programs. But for some school’s what’s missing from the bill signals the beginning of the end. Schools presently accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) were dealt a major blow when riders in the bill which would have given the schools an extension to obtain alternative accreditation were stripped from the bill.

In an email circulated by Central States Private Education Network (CSPEN), Tom Netting and Jeri Prochaska explain the details and what happens next.

CSPEN UPDATE  March 22nd, 2018
FY18 Omnibus Appropriations Deal Reached
Shortly after 8 o’clock last night congressional leaders finally released the 2,232-page, $1.3 trillion omnibus spending proposal providing funding for the remaining six months of the current fiscal year which began last October 1st.  The bill, currently being negotiated on the House floor with Senate consideration likely to follow over the next couple of days – suggesting that a sixth Continuing Resolution will likely have to be passed by midnight tomorrow in order to provide time for the Senate to consider the bill.
 
In general, the bill is a very sizeable increase in spending over both the prior budget deal agreed upon under the Obama Administration and larger than President Trump’s budget request.  Thanks to the new two-year budget deal signed into law last month, Labor-HHS-Education appropriations, which is already the largest non-defense title in the omnibus, received a total of $177.1 billion, $16.1 billion more than fiscal 2017.  Based upon the revised number, the funding allocations for each of the three departments breaks down as follows: $88.1 billion for Health and Human Services Department, $70.9 billion for Education Department, and $12.2 billion for the Labor Department.
 
Within Education, the new budget deal netted a $4.1 billion increase over the prior year ($70.9 – FY18 v. $66.8 FY17), providing benefits for higher education funding in the form of $24.4 billion for Federal Pell Grants, compared to $22.5 billion in 2017 AND the removal of a provision previously being considered to repeal $1.6 billion of the existing surplus in the Federal Pell Grant program.  This favorable outcome for students will result in an increase in the maximum award of $175 for Academic Year 2019, raising the maximum award to $6,095 for zero EFC students, ensures the continuation of Year-round Pell funding, and suggests that congress will continue to support incremental Pell Grant support as the appropriator begin to discuss funding levels for Fiscal Year 2019.

ACICS-accredited Institution Transition Provision Political Casualty
Through absolutely no fault of anyone, including most notably the House and Senate Education Committee leadership, ACICS-accredited institutions, Accrediting Agencies, or those supporting their efforts to extend the June 12, 2018 deadline for transition to an alternative accrediting agency, the final deal reached by House and Senate leaders and the White House failed to include an amendment granting institutions and accreditors additional time for institutions to make necessary changes to comply with their new accrediting agencies’ standards and/or provide the accreditors with updated data validating their compliance.
 
Despite efforts behind the scenes to resolve and further refine the language originally contained in the Senate’s version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (S. 1557 – S. Report 115-130) by Senate HELP Committee leadership, House support for the inclusion of an amendment to address the need for a delay, and significant advocacy from impacted institutions and accrediting agencies; the provision was removed as part of a much larger political deal in which ALL RIDERS were removed in order to clear the way for consideration.  As reported in the press, the final negotiations centered around Democrats insistence on provisions related to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Administration/Republicans efforts to providing funding for building of a wall on our nation’s southern border.  Unable to reach an agreement on these two key issues, an alternative approach was taken in which all of the riders were removed.
 
Thus, both efforts to resolve and include the ACICS-accredited institution extension (supported by the Republicans) and the inclusion of both Federal Pell Grant and student loan relief in Borrower Defenses claims of Corinthian, ITT, and other institutional closures (supported by the Democrats), along with many, many other priorities being sought for inclusion in the “must-pass legislation” became casualties of the final deal.
 
So what now?
 
Without an extension, institutions converting from ACICS to another accrediting agency, by law, must complete the process on or before June 12, 2018 (18 months from the December 12, 2017 notification based upon the NACIQI/Obama Administration decision.  While a significant number of institutions and accreditors will have completed the process, it is incumbent upon the community to continue to share with Congress and the Administration the clear impact that the deadline will have on those institutions and their new accrediting agency.  Both groups need further detailed information showing how and why the 18 month window is too short and the reasons why both the accreditors and the institutions legitimately need more time to complete the process.
 
Admittedly, this has been the strategy up to this point, and it would have been resolved if the final deal would have retained many crucial riders.  But since it didn’t, we must now redouble our efforts to show the impact on students, schools, and the accreditors that must – as everyone would expect them to – follow their standards and processes.  Thus we must help make everyone understand why additional time to complete the transition/conversion process is in everyone’s best interest.
 
CSPEN will certainly continue to do everything we can to support these efforts on behalf of the effected portions of our community.

ACICS PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED

Last month, the Century Foundation filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Department of Education. It sought records about two accrediting agencies under federal review, ACICS and ABA. Just days before the public comment period for the two accreditors was scheduled to end, a district judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking Secretary Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education from wrapping things up quite so quickly, effectively extending the deadline for public comment on the two agencies until March 1, 2018. The department can’t make a recommendation on the accreditors until it reviews public feedback and with more than 20,000 documents released under the freedom of information act, you can bet some will be seeking more time to review them before providing public comments. Delays may stymie ACICS’ plans to get in front of NACIQI this spring.   

ACICS SEEKS RE-RECOGNITION FROM ED

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) has filed an Application for Initial Recognition with the U.S. Department of Education. The accrediting agency lost recognition in 2016 after several of its member institutions were shut down amid scandals involving fraud and abuse.

ACICS will be on the agenda for the Spring 2018 National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) meeting. The meeting date has not been determined but will be announced in a Federal Register notice soon. The OPE has put out a call for written third-party comments which you can access here.

Transitioning ACICS school’s waiting for site visits received some relief when the Department of Education’s School Eligibility Service Group extended the deadline until February 28, 2018, however, all schools must have obtained an affirmative approval of accreditation from a recognized accreditor by the June 12, 2018, statutory deadline.

According to a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, by Adam Harris and Eric Kelderman, “The department’s actions have raised the prospect that it may decide to restore the embattled accreditor’s eligibility. ”

 

ACICS SEEKS EXPEDITED PATH TO RECOGNITION

Accreditation Consultants ACICS, ACCET, NEASC

ACICS President and CEO Michelle Edwards confirmed today that the accreditor will be seeking recognition from the Department of Education to again become a National Accreditor. The agency plans to submit a formal petition to ED by October 1 which will allow them to be considered for the Spring 2018 NACIQI meeting, just in time for schools that haven’t met all of the milestones necessary to maintain their financial aid eligibility. Should the agency be re-recognized next spring, schools that have been unable to find another accreditor may get a free pass. On the other hand, if the agency doesn’t obtain recognition the recently introduced Senate Appropriations Bill might provide an additional 18 month extension so that schools can obtain alternative accreditation. 

ACICS has been greeted by the current Presidential Administration with an attitude that is more favorable to the accreditor which accredited primarily schools and colleges with career training programs until its recognition was terminated last year. Last month ACICS made news after United States District Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled that states have the right to intervene and defend the Obama administration’s decision to revoke the commission’s recognition with the Department of Education. ACICS sued for an injunction against ED and the court has denied it. Although Secretary DeVos has defended the Obama era decision in court, ACICS is expected to drop it’s suit as ACICS seeks to expedite it’s re-recognition. Indeed things are looking up for the agency and the remaining schools it accredits.

In an additional statement the accreditor explained that ACICS has adopted new accreditation criteria to improve the effectiveness of its accreditation process.

 

 

 

COURT CONFIRMS STATES RIGHT TO DEFEND IN ACICS V DEVOS

Last week United States District Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled that states have the right to intervene and defend the Obama administration’s decision to revoke the Accrediting Commission Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) recognition with the Department of Education. ACICS sued for an injunction against ED the court has denied it. ACICS was rumored to have been negotiating a deal with ED that would allow the accreditor to seek earlier re-recognition in exchange for dropping the suit. Now that the courts have confirmed state attorney’s general right to defend ED’s decision, it seems any opportunity for Secretary Devos to settle with the agency may have been stymied. You can read the court decision here.