Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools


The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is a non-profit education corporation that was recognized until 2021 by the United States Department of Education as an independent and autonomous national accrediting body.[2]

Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
TypeNational accrediting body
Michelle Edwards[1] Edit this at Wikidata

The accreditor's status worsened after a USA Today expose in February 2020 revealed that ACICS had accredited a sham university called Reagan National University. [3]

Since July 2021, ACICS has been waiting on its ultimate fate from the Deputy Secretary of Education. [4][5]

ACICS was established in 1912. At one time it accredited 245 institutions of higher education offering undergraduate and graduate diplomas and degrees in both traditional formats and through distance education.[6] ACICS is incorporated in Virginia and operates from offices in Washington, D.C.[7]

During the presidency of Barack Obama, concerns about the validity of its accreditation led the U.S. Department of Education to revoke the accreditor's recognition in 2016, making the students of schools without other accreditation ineligible for federal student aid.[8] After a legal battle, President Donald Trump's administration undid that move.[9] Through a lawsuit, Trump's Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, restored the institution's recognition (although the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) withdrew the organization's membership).[10]

Immediately after President Biden's inauguration in January of 2021, an independent advisory board, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, following a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Education staff,[11] recommended 11–1 that the ACICS lose its recognition by the U.S. Department of Education as an authorized accrediting body.[12][13] In June 2021, the department again revoked ACICS recognition as an accreditor.[1] At the time of this revocation, ACICS was an accreditor for about 60 colleges.[14]

Federal financial aid for higher education—Pell Grants and Stafford Loans are the largest programs—requires that the aid be used at an institution whose accreditation the U.S. Department of Education recognizes. Usually, schools that lose recognized accreditation, and consequently access to federal financial aid, subsequently close.


ACICS was established upon the request of Benjamin Franklin Williams, President of Capital City Commercial College of Des Moines, Iowa. Upon the meeting of 22 school administrators, who met in Chicago, Illinois, on December 12, 1912, the original alliance formed the basis of National Association of Accredited Commercial Schools (NAACS), which was later renamed ACICS.[15]


The scope of ACICS' recognition by the Department of Education and CHEA was defined as accreditation of private post-secondary educational institutions, both for-profit and non-profit, offering nondegree programs or associate degrees, bachelor's degrees and master's degrees in programs "designed to train and educate persons for professional, technical, or occupational careers".[16][17]

As an accreditor for many for-profit colleges, ACICS provided information during U.S. Congressional investigations of for-profit education in 2010. ACICS reported that the institutions it accredits are required to demonstrate a student retention rate of at least 75 percent.[18] Retention rates are calculated within a single academic year.[19]

In 2015, ACICS fell under significant scrutiny after the collapse of Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit institution that was accredited by ACICS until its sudden demise. A subcommittee of the United States Senate requested information from ACICS in November 2015.[20] Five months later, twelve state attorneys general requested that the U.S. Department of Education withdraw recognition from ACICS as a federally-recognized accreditor.[21][22] The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau petitioned a federal court to order ACICS to make available information about "its decision to approve several controversial for-profit college chains",[23] and the president of the organization, Al Gray, resigned.[22][24]

Scrutiny continued in 2016 and intensified after another large chain of for-profit institutions accredited by ACICS, ITT Technical Institute, came under fire by state and federal agencies; the chain closed in 2016 and filed for bankruptcy. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a prominent critic of ACICS, released a report critical of the accreditor in June. Several days later, the U.S. Department of Education formally recommended that the accreditor's recognition be withdrawn.[25][26]

In September 2016, the chief of staff to the U.S. education secretary wrote in a letter to ACICS: "I am terminating the department's recognition of ACICS as a national recognized accrediting agency. ... ACICS's track record does not inspire confidence that it can address all of the problems effectively."[8] The company immediately announced that it would appeal the decision within the 30 days allowed for appeal, to Education Secretary John King Jr.[8] ACICS unsuccessfully appealed the decision[27][28] and subsequently sued the Department of Education.[29] Although Secretary of Education King finalized the process of revoking the U.S. Department of Education's recognition of ACICS as an accreditor in December 2016,[28] ACICS's lawsuit resulted in a judge ordering Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to review the decision in March 2018 as King did not take into account all of the evidence;[30] DeVos subsequently restored the accreditor's recognition by the Department of Education.[31]

Although the Department of Education continued to recognize the accreditor, many institutions left the organization while its status was in question. At the same time, many institutions formerly accredited by ACICS closed. This loss in membership, combined with the legal costs associated with the lawsuits and legal proceedings, placed the organization into financial difficulties including a $2.1 million deficit in 2019.[31] Although the Department of Education restored its recognition of ACICS following its lawsuit, CHEA did not and ACICS withdrew its application to CHEA in early 2020.[32] Following the inauguration of Joe Biden in 2021, the Department of Education again moved to withdraw recognition of ACICS with department staff recommending withdrawal in January and the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity recommending withdrawal in March. The department made its final decision to withdraw recognition in June. ACICS can appeal the decision to the Secretary of Education and plans to do so.[1][33]

Whether ACICS deserves recognition as an accreditor was called into question by an investigation by USA Today that found that ACICS had accredited a school, Reagan National University, was a sham. According to this report, Reagan National University had no campus, faculty, current students, or alumni.[34]

Council MeetingsEdit

Beginning in 2021, Council meetings to present actions are made in April and November and the Annual Meeting is held in June.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Douglas-Gabriel, Danielle (2 June 2021). "Education Dept. drops embattled for-profit college accreditor". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  2. ^ "Feds cancel reinstated accreditor after USA TODAY finds apparently fake college".
  3. ^ Quintana, Chris. "Group that approved South Dakota college without students rebuked, may lose access to federal money". USA Today. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  4. ^ "ACICS Files Appeal to the Secretary of Education of the Senior Department Official Decision to Terminate Agency Recognition". ACICS. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  5. ^ Stratford, Michael. "What's going on with ACICS?". Politico. Retrieved 18 May 2022.
  6. ^ "U.S. Department of Education, Staff Report to the Senior Department Official on Recognition Compliance Issues". U.S. Department of Education. Archived from the original on 13 April 2018. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
  7. ^ "ACICS - About Us". Archived from the original on 2015-03-19. Retrieved 2013-12-06.
  8. ^ a b c "Education Department Strips Authority of Largest For-Profit Accreditor". U.S. News & World Report. September 22, 2016.
  9. ^ Quintana, Chris (June 21, 2019). "A worthless degree? Betsy DeVos wants to change rules for which colleges stay open, close". USA Today.
  10. ^ "ACICS no longer seeking recognition from key oversight group". EducationDive. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  11. ^ "U.S. Department of Education Staff Report to the Senior Department Official on Recognition Compliance Issues". OMB 1840-0788. January 22, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  12. ^ Douglas-Gabriel, Danielle (March 5, 2021). "Federal advisory board votes to drop controversial for-profit college accreditor". Washington Post.
  13. ^ Kelderman, Eric (March 10, 2021). "Colleges Are Fleeing a Troubled Accreditor. Can They Find a New One?". Chronicle of Higher Education.
  14. ^ Quintana, Chris (4 June 2021). "Feds cancel accreditor over apparent fake college". USA Today.
  15. ^ "ACICS - Events".
  16. ^ "Accreditation in the United States". U.S. Department of Education. 29 July 2021.
  17. ^ "CHEA: Directory of National Career-Related Accrediting Organizations". Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Archived from the original on 2016-12-24. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  18. ^ Helguero, Gerald (October 3, 2010). "Clampdown on for-profit schools faces opposition". International Business Times. Archived from the original on October 5, 2010.
  19. ^ "How Jewish College Uses Federal Funds To Grow". Forward. October 4, 2012.
  20. ^ Stratford, Michael (November 6, 2015). "Senate Inquiry Into Accreditation". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
  21. ^ Thomason, Andy (April 8, 2016). "13 State Attorneys General Say Accreditor's Recognition Should Be Revoked". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  22. ^ a b "Attorneys General Come Down on Accreditor of For-profit Colleges". ProPublica. April 11, 2016.
  23. ^ Fain, Paul (October 15, 2015). "Federal Watchdog Eyes Accreditor". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
  24. ^ Stratford, Michael (April 18, 2016). "Sudden Departure at For-Profit Accreditor". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
  25. ^ Fain, Paul (June 15, 2016). "U.S. Recommends Shutting For-Profit Accreditor". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  26. ^ U.S. Department of Education (June 2016). "U.S. Department of Education Staff Report to the Senior Department Official on Recognition Compliance Issues". Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  27. ^ "ACICS Status Update". Retrieved October 25, 2016.
  28. ^ a b "Education Department Establishes Enhanced Federal Aid Participation Requirements for ACICS-accredited Colleges" (Press release). United States Department of Education. December 12, 2016. Archived from the original on December 26, 2016. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  29. ^ "Department of Education Appeal Decision". Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  30. ^ Harris, Adam (March 25, 2018). "Federal Judge Hands a Victory to Embattled Accreditor". Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  31. ^ a b Kreighbaum, Andrew (June 6, 2019). "Embattled Accreditor Projects Losses After Closure of Member Colleges". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
  32. ^ Fain, Paul (January 20, 2020). "For-Profit Accreditor Drops Recognition Bid". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
  33. ^ Gravely, Alexis (June 3, 2021). "Education Department Ends Recognition of ACICS". Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  34. ^ Quintana, Chris; Conlon, Shelly (February 15, 2020). "This college was accredited by a DeVos-sanctioned group. We couldn't find evidence of students or faculty". USA Today. Retrieved 3 June 2021.

External linksEdit

  • Official website