Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a signed order Tuesday that she was restoring the federal recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the for-profit accreditor that had waged a fight for reinstatement since the Obama administration withdrew its recognition in 2016.
DeVos took the action in response to a federal district court judge's ruling last month that former secretary John King failed to consider key evidence before terminating the recognition of ACICS. The ruling kicked back to the department final consideration of the accreditor's fate. But it left unclear whether the department would review the original 2016 petition or the appeal filed by ACICS in 2017. That latter scenario would involve a more strenuous process for the accreditor as a body no longer recognized by the federal government.
ACICS had been a central player in recent turmoil in the for-profit college sector as the oversight body for Corinthian Colleges, which closed in 2015, and ITT Tech, which closed in 2016. King cited "pervasive compliance problems" in a final order to withdraw recognition in December 2016.
The order from DeVos said ACICS will retain its status as a federally recognized agency until she reaches a final decision on its 2016 application. It will also be removed from the agenda for the May 2018 meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which oversees all accreditors of postsecondary institutions.
Even if the secretary determines that full recognition for ACICS is not warranted, it may be extended continued recognition for up to 12 months to demonstrate compliance with federal criteria. If it receives full recognition, the accreditor could be recognized through December 2021.
The accreditor must file a written submission and further exhibits to be considered by the department before May 30. A senior department official will respond by July 30.
The withdrawal of recognition from ACICS set off a scramble by the 270 institutions it oversaw to find new accreditors. An analysis by the Center for American Progress in February found that the vast majority of institutions overseen by ACICS had either closed, already obtained accreditation elsewhere or were in the final stages of review by a new accreditor or were scheduled to reach that step.