November 26, 2018

While You Were Eating: DeVos’s Holiday Embrace of Predatory Colleges

While You Were Eating: DeVos's Holiday Embrace of Predatory Colleges

In a Thanksgiving eve disgrace, Trump Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos reinstated ACICS, the discredited college accreditor that ignored blatant abuses of students by predatory for-profit schools like ITT, Corinthian, Kaplan, the Art Institutes, and many more, thus allowing billions in taxpayer dollars to flow to scam artists over decades.

The Obama Administration, after a lengthy review, ended federal recognition of ACICS in 2016, which meant that schools accredited by ACICS would no longer be eligible for the federal student grants and loans that for-profit colleges need in order to exist. ACICS immediately sued, and last week DeVos seemed more than happy to cast aside all the evidence that ACICS’s asleep-at-the-switch approach allowed predatory schools to ruin the financial futures of countless veterans, single moms, and others seeking a better future.

Most ACICS-accredited colleges have found a new accreditor already, or collapsed, leaving only a handful of mostly questionable schools dependent on ACICS approval. So why bother saving this failed accrediting body? I guess for DeVos and her aide Diane Jones, whose factually-deficient review laid the groundwork for DeVos’s holiday decision, it’s the principle of the thing, or lack thereof. Jones previously worked for Career Education Corp., another predatory chain whose schools benefitted from ACICS approval.

The move is also meant, perhaps, to send a message to other accreditors that they can relax — no need to hold bad colleges accountable as far as the United States Department of Education is concerned.

One accreditor who may be partaking of that spirit is Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which also used Thanksgiving week to issue a decision to punt on the continued accreditation of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. That school is part of a for-profit chain acquired last year by a new non-profit operation, Dream Center Educational Holdings (DCEH). DCEH desperately needs continued accreditation of Ai Pittsburgh, because it is the base for students to take classes online. DCEH is pushing its programs online as it lays off many of its employees and closes physical campuses across the country, a process that has created chaos and heartbreak for students, faculty, and staff.

Earlier this year, Middle States put Ai Pittsburgh on probation, citing numerous concerns about the school’s operation and disclosures. Then in July, Middle States ordered the school to show cause why accreditation should not be withdrawn. Among other things, Middle States directed DCEH to report back on “evidence … of the breadth of the relationships involving the related entities, Dream Center Foundation and Dream Center Education Holdings (DCEH), including the identification of contractual relationships, employment, and family or financial interests that could pose or be perceived as conflicts of interest.” Back in May, Republic Report had exposed a web of troubling ties between DCEH and for-profit ventures associated with DCEH CEO Brent Richardson and his family.

We further reported in May that DCEH was falsely telling students that two other Ai schools — Illinois and Colorado — were accredited, after yet another accreditor, Higher Learning Commission, had suspended that accreditation pending further review. (We also later reported that, in a Washington meeting that included both Brent Richardson and Diane Jones earlier this year, DeVos aides actually told the DECH team to misrepresent the accreditation of those schools — a matter now the subject of questions to DeVos by Democratic U.S. senators Dick Durbin (IL), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Richard Blumenthal (CT), and Sherrod Brown (OH).)

Despite all the evidence of mismanagement and misconduct by DCEH, Middle States has decided to give the company more time, until March 19, to answer many of the same questions it already had posed about conflicts of interest and management capacity. It’s not clear what Middle States’ end game is here, or if they even have one in mind. No doubt there is concern that existing students at the school will face even more turmoil if accreditation is withdrawn. But the result is more time for DCEH to continue enrolling new students and banking their taxpayer-funded financial aid — something that is simply piling up more wreckage.

At least one other accreditor kicked a big can down the road last week. As we reported, the accreditor WASC Senior College and University Commission told for-profit Bridgepoint Education that pending further documentation, they are deferring a decision on Bridgepoint’s application to convert its Ashford University to a non-profit. Such a conversion, if also approved by the DeVos Department, would allow Ashford, an awful predatory online college, to escape the stigma and regulations associated with for-profit schools, while its for-profit partner, Bridgepoint, still gets huge sums from taxpayers.

Given the school’s poor record, it’s dismaying that WASC has signed up as some of its key officials Joseph Hoey and Lori Williams, both of whom recently worked at Bridgepoint-Ashford, and Ashford’s current president and CEO Craig Swenson serves, according to his bio, as a WASC “peer reviewer and accreditation team chair.” But despite the presence of these conflicted persons on the WASC team, maybe WASC’s action to delay approval is a sign there’s still a chance the accreditor will reject Bridgepoint’s sham conversion.

Meanwhile, DeVos’s malevolent embrace of anti-student companies was exposed upon yet another dimension: It’s apparent now that the DeVos Department concealed evidence of deceptive practices by student loan servicing company Navient.

Perhaps billionaire Betsy DeVos enjoyed an opulent Thanksgiving feast at one of her luxury mansions. Perhaps the wealthy CEOs of the taxpayer-supported scam colleges that DeVos aids and abets also had nice meals. Meanwhile, across the country, broke victims of those scam colleges, bearing tens of thousands in debt for worthless for-profit programs, struggle to make ends meet. What this has to do with Making America Great I am unable to tell you.