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States Intervene in For-Profit Education Lawsuit

— January 26, 2017

Attorneys general from several states filed a motion to intervene in a for-profit education lawsuit against the federal government.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or ACICS, made a decision to take the Department of Education to court after having its accreditation authority revoked last month. Worries over the priorities of the Trump administration have hastened attorneys general from across the country to stand up for the gains made under Barack Obama.

The ACICS formerly served as the accreditor for 245 for-profit educational institutions. It was the accreditor for brands like Corinthians College and ITT Tech – names made infamous after exposés were published on their predatory recruiting and loan counseling practices. Only weeks before the keys to the White House changed hands, John King, Jr., the current Secretary of Education, finalized the termination of ACICS status. Doubtlessly the move was along after then-President-Elect Trump put forward Betsy DeVos as a possible replacement for King. DeVos has previously advocated for the widespread privatization of schools.

Betsy DeVos, current Secretary of Education; image courtesy of Carolyn Kaster, AP Photo
Betsy DeVos, current Secretary of Education; image courtesy of Carolyn Kaster, AP Photo

Why states might be inclined to join the fight against ACICS is a matter which ties together commonsense matters of money with the ethical quandaries posed by institutes like ITT Tech. Accreditation, at its core, is supposed to represent quality. An accredited college or university should maintain certain standards in admission and coursework rigor – community colleges and the Ivy League alike are associated by certain regional bodies.

Critics of ACICS claim the body was thoroughly compromised, refusing to damn to ITT Tech and Corinthians College even as state governments began investigations. The problem, as well as its consequences, went far beyond favoritism – c-level management of some member schools sat on ACICS’ governing board, defying federal and state Department of Education inquiries at every turn. Students who enrolled at ACICS-accredited colleges were more likely to borrow heavy and default on federal and private loans compared to students attending programs accredited by others. They were also less likely to graduate or find employment in a field relevant to their studies.

ITT Tech and Corinthians are but two of the best-known examples of ACICS failure to regulate and ensure quality. Students would be won over with promises of big, federally-sponsored financial aid packages. Veterans were a preferred target of for-profit colleges, as many who had seen combat were entitled to GI Bill benefits. Tuition could exceed that of top-ranked colleges like the University of Michigan. Those who managed to get their hands on a degree would usually be saddled with the debt of an NYU graduate and career prospects just better than those afforded by a GED.

States and their respective attorneys general have real cause to intervene. Students who receive poor educations from poorly regarded institutions cannot often afford to pay back what they borrowed for better themselves. With a gung-ho president and pro-privatization Secretary of Education settling themselves into Washington, Americans from across the United States have cause to question whether the federal government can accurately represent their interests in court. Any victory for ACICS drops the integrity of higher education closer to a failing grade.


Facts about Accreditation

Massachusetts Motion to Intervene

States Intervene in Accreditor’s Suite Against Feds

States Move to Intervene in Federal Case on For-profit College Watchdog

To Trump’s education pick, the U.S. public school system is a ‘dead end’

Who Keeps Billions of Taxpayer Dollars Flowing to For-profit Colleges? These Guys

Who’s Regulating For-profit Schools? Execs From For-profit Colleges

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