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ED terminates recognition of ACICS: Next steps

Aaron Lacey September 23, 2016

Yesterday afternoon, 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, which presently accredits several hundred career and technical schools. The Department’s decision was made following, and in response to, recommendations by both Departmental staff and the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) to terminate the accreditor’s recognition.
Though this decision has most immediate and significant importance for the institutions presently accredited by ACICS, institutions throughout higher education may also be touched by this decision, should the thousands of students and employees of ACICS-accredited institutions ultimately be displaced.

Federal regulations specify that ACICS now has 10 days to notify the Department if it intends to appeal, and 30 days to file the actual appeal documentation. The Department’s action is stayed while the appeal is pending. On Wednesday of this week, Secretary King indicated that if an appeal were filed, it would get "resolved quickly." It bears note, however, that the Secretary is not bound to make a decision within any specific timeframe.
Should the Secretary uphold the Department’s decision, ACICS may contest the termination of recognition in federal court. However, unless otherwise directed by the court, the termination action would not be stayed while the matter is litigated.
At whatever point a final termination action should become effective, institutions currently accredited by ACICS would automatically be placed on provisional approval, and would have 18 months to secure accreditation from another accreditor recognized by the Department. Institutions unable to make the transition within this period would lose their eligibility to participate in the federal financial aid programs.
Institutions can find additional information in the Department’s document Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Federal Recognition for Accrediting Agencies, as well as on its website. In addition, institutions are welcome to contact Thompson Coburn’s Higher Education practice.
Aaron Lacey is a partner in Thompson Coburn’s Higher Education practice, and editorial director of REGucation. You can find Aaron on Twitter (@HigherEdCounsel) and LinkedIn, and reach him at (314) 552-6405 or alacey@thompsoncoburn.com.