August 3, 2020

Accreditor Again Smacks Carl Barney College Chains As Campuses Close

Accreditor Again Smacks Carl Barney College Chains As Campuses Close

While Carl Barney has enjoyed waxing philosophic and holding fancy parties, the career college empire he built  — which has included CollegeAmerica, Stevens-Henager College, California College San Diego, and the online Independence University — has kept getting into deeper trouble for its bad behavior, producing poor outcomes for many students and for U.S. taxpayers, even as it has made Mr. Barney very rich.

Trump education secretary Betsy DeVos has tried to aid Barney’s operation, secretly reversing the Obama administration’s decision to continue treating the schools as for-profit colleges even after Barney engineered their sale to the Center for Excellence in Higher Education (CEHE), a tiny non-profit he had taken over.

Barney’s schools have a terrible record of deceiving, overcharging, and under-educating students, and of being in big trouble with law enforcement agencies, accreditors, and the state oversight board in Colorado, home to CollegeAmerica ground campuses. Yet the schools continue to get tens of millions from taxpayers, and they got another $5.5 million from the COVD-19 emergency relief bill. 

Now, the poor performance of Barney’s schools has led, for the third year in a row, to a harshly negative report and sanctions from accrediting agency ACCSC, whose approval is needed to keep the schools eligible for federal student grants and loans.

The ACCSC letter, dated July 21, renews the accreditor’s decision to keep the Barney schools on system-wide probation.

The letter also confirms that CEHE will soon be closing, or else “teaching out” as a prelude to closing, thirteen of its fourteen physical campuses, located in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and California; only one such campus will remain. Meanwhile ACCSC has prohibited the shuttering schools from enrolling new students without permission.

Turning to the remaining CEHE schools, online Independence University and the Ogden, Utah, campus of Stevens-Henager, the ACCSC letter concludes, that, well, these schools still have a lot of problems: “There remain significant questions with regard to student achievement outcomes, accurate reporting of student achievement data, advertising, assessment of prospective students for distance education programs, independent study, and the status of ongoing litigation, state, and federal actions.” The accreditor adds, “Of particular concern is that IU [Independence] continues to report below benchmark rates of student achievement.”

ACCSC’s letter maintains an order barring Independence University from enrolling new students in some of its business programs and, citing weak student outcomes, capping student enrollments in six other programs.

Independence, according to the ACCSC letter, reports a wide range of graduation and job placement rates in its programs. The health services management BS degree program reports a 14 percent graduation rate, a business administration associates degree is 18 percent, and a web design BS reports 9 percent, while a nurse education masters reports an 80 percent graduation rate. Employment rates also vary greatly, from 33 percent to 100 percent.

ACCSC also says it will continue to closely monitor CEHE’s advertising and recruiting practices and content, given “the history of the Commission’s issues and actions regarding CEHE’s advertising.” ACCSC is also requiring that CEHE inform current and prospective students that the schools are on probation.

But while ACCSC keeps finding CEHE out of compliance with its standards for quality and integrity, the accreditor keeps extending the deadline for the schools to comply, most recently moving the compliance date from September 7, 2020, to May 31, 2021. Maybe someday the Barney schools will comply, or ACCSC will actually halt accreditation. 

ACCSC, finally, directs CEHE to keep it updated on ongoing legal proceedings it faces: (1) a False Claims Act lawsuit being pursued by the U.S. Justice Department for alleged defrauding of taxpayers; (2) a fraud lawsuit brought by the attorney general of Colorado (where Diane Auer Jones, who has since become Betsy DeVos’s top higher education aide, testified as an expert witness in support of CEHE), still awaiting a decision by the judge; (3) a pending investigation by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and (4) actions taken by the board of the Colorado Division of Private Occupational Schools.

At a January 2020 meeting of that Colorado oversight board, according to board minutes, a staff member, deputy director Mary Kanaly, reported on the outcome of an investigation of CollegeAmerica. The probe determined that the school had ended enrollment at all three of its Colorado campuses, but had not informed state regulators. In fact, the investigation found, CollegeAmerica continued to advertise enrollment on its website and then directed potential students to contact CollegeAmerica’s “sister” school, Independence University, which, Kanaly informed the board, was, like CollegeAmerica, on probation with ACCSC.

Following that presentation, the Colorado board voted to issue a Notice of Noncompliance and Cease and Desist order to Independence University as an “unauthorized Out-of-State School” in violation of state law. It also voted to subpoena CollegeAmerica over its efforts to recruit students for Independence University. 

At the Colorado board’s next meeting, in February, the board grilled Eric Juhlin, CEHE’s CEO, about the company’s failure to inform the board about cessation of enrollments of students at CollegeAmerica campuses in the state. According to the minutes, “Mr. Juhlin stated that he did not know why and then asserted that there were no requirements to notify the Division of the decision to cease enrollment.” 

I don’t know why the federal government keeps sending millions of dollars to Eric Juhlin and Carl Barney’s schools.