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The Department of Education terminated federal recognition of the controversial Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools Wednesday, stripping it of its powers to accredit colleges and universities.

The decision comes after several recommendations made this year to withdraw recognition -- first in January by department staff and then in March by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity.

The department said ACICS breached compliance of federal recognition criteria by failing to properly oversee institutions and having inadequate administrative capability.

"Following years of review involving four different compliance inquiries and reports, and after considering the entire lengthy and complex record before me, ACICS’s significant and systemic noncompliance with multiple regulatory recognition criteria leaves me no reasonable option but to terminate its recognition, effective immediately," Jordan Matsudaira, deputy under secretary for education, said in a letter to ACICS.

Michelle Edwards, president of ACICS, said in a statement that she believes the agency is in "substantial compliance with any objective, consistent, and reasonable interpretation of the recognition material."

"All accreditors should see this moment as a wake-up call," Edwards said. "You may believe you are in compliance with the recognition criteria, but that is not enough. You may believe the process is objective and standard across all institutions, but that is no longer the case."

Matsudaira noted that full compliance, rather than substantial compliance, was required because ACICS was already under compliance review. He added that he didn't believe ACICS would be able to demonstrate full compliance within a 12-month period.

This is the second time the agency has lost its federal recognition in the last five years, with the Obama administration pulling recognition of ACICS in December 2016. The Trump administration then restored recognition of ACICS in 2018, largely due to the administration's focus on deregulation and support of for-profit institutions.

ACICS has a history of controversy -- in 2020, a USA Today report found that the agency had accredited Reagan National University in South Dakota, which had no faculty, staff or classrooms. It was also known for having lax oversight of several failed for-profits, including Corinthian Colleges and FastTrain College.

The 59 colleges that the agency now oversees will have 18 months to apply for and be granted accreditation from a new accreditor.

ACICS has 30 days to appeal the decision to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, which Edwards said it plans to do.

"We have worked too hard over the past five years to strengthen our organization, our accountability, our procedures, and accreditation criteria not to fight this decision," Edwards said.