|Type||National accrediting body|
The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is a non-profit education corporation that is recognized by the United States Department of Education as an independent and autonomous national accrediting body. ACICS was established in 1912. It accredited 245 institutions of higher education offering undergraduate and graduate diplomas and degrees in both traditional formats and through distance education. ACICS is incorporated in Virginia and operates from offices in Washington, D.C. Concerns about the quality of its accreditation led the U.S. Department of Education to withdraw the accreditor's recognition in 2016 but a subsequent lawsuit and review led the Secretary of Education to retain the institution's recognition (although the Council for Higher Education Accreditation withdrew the organization's membership).
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.
The scope of ACICS' recognition by the Department of Education and CHEA is 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."
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. Retention rates are calculated within a single academic year.
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. Five months later, twelve state attorneys general requested that the U.S. Department of Education withdraw recognition from ACICS as a federally-recognized accreditor. 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", and the president of the organization, Al Gray, resigned.
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. 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." The company immediately announced that it would appeal the decision within the 30 days allowed for appeal, to Education Secretary John King Jr. ACICS unsuccessfully appealed the decision and subsequently sued the Department of Education. 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, 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; DeVos subsequently restored the accreditor's recognition by the Department of Education.
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. 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.
Whether ACICS deserves to be accredited has again been called into question by an investigation by USA Today that found that ACICS had accredited a school, Reagan National University, that appears to be a sham. According to this report, Reagan National University has no campus, faculty, current students, or alumni.