October 28, 2020

Accreditor Says Court Ruling Raises New Doubts About Carl Barney Schools

Accreditor Says Court Ruling Raises New Doubts About Carl Barney Schools

In August a Colorado state judge issued a blockbuster ruling that found systematic consumer protection abuses against students by the Center for Excellence in Higher Education (CEHE), operator of career training schools including CollegeAmerica and Independence University. Now, based on that decision, CEHE’s accreditor, which already had placed the schools on probation, is demanding new information.

In a letter sent Monday from its executive director, Michale McComis, accreditor ACCSC tells CEHE that the Colorado court’s findings “raise very serious questions about CEHE’s compliance with the Commission’s accreditation standards and policies in concert with the concerns set forth in the Probation Order currently in effect for the system of schools owned and operated by CEHE.” 

Noting that the court found CEHE founder Carl Barney and CEHE CEO Eric Juhlin personally liable for violations of Colorado’s consumer protection law, McComis concludes that CEHE “may be out of compliance” with ACCSC rules as long as the two men “are employed in a management capacity or in a position where they would participate in or oversee submissions of information to ACCSC.” 

McComis further writes that the aggressive recruiting tactics documented by the Colorado court raise questions about CEHE’s compliance with ACCSC student recruiting standards. 

The ACCSC letter also notes that the judge credited an expert witness, called at trial by the state of Colorado, who testified that CEHE overstated to the accreditor its job placement rates and violated the accreditor’s standards regarding placement.

As a result of these conclusions, McComis directs CEHE to provide to ACCSC, by December 30, documentation on matters including Barney’s and Juhlin’s commitment to ethical practices, CEHE’s board of directors, and the school’s admissions practices and job placement statistics.

ACCSC has been finding deficiencies and imposing disciplinary measures on CEHE schools for several years. CEHE has now closed most of its CollegeAmerica and Stevens-Henager ground campuses, but its online-only Independence University is still getting millions annually from taxpayers for programs that often ruin the financial futures of students who enroll. ACCSC approval is what allows these federal dollars to keep flowing to the schools.

How long will ACCSC keep asking questions, rather than taking decisive action against the predatory CEHE schools?

CEHE schools converted from for-profit to non-profit status in a highly questionable 2012 deal that continued sending big money to Carl Barney’s wallet. The Obama administration rejected CEHE’s bid to be treated as a non-profit for purposes of federal regulations, but Trump education secretary Betsy DeVos reversed that determination. DeVos’s top higher education aide, Diane Auer Jones, while a private consultant, gave implausible testimony in the Colorado case as an “expert witness” paid $50,000 by CEHE. Jones then joined the DeVos Department in early 2018 and became the architect of DeVos’s efforts to eliminate accountability for predatory colleges.

Juhlin has written to CEHE staff criticizing the Colorado judge’s decision and vowing an appeal. Meanwhile, nineteen pro-student groups, and I, have sent a letter to DeVos calling on her to cut off federal student grants and loans in light of the Colorado court decision. 

Increasingly it seems like Barney and Juhlin are getting cornered, but who knows, especially if Donald Trump is re-elected. There may be an exit strategy in the awful world of U.S. higher education. Some observers previously pointed to CEHE’s $8.5 million loan last year to a struggling career school, for-profit National American University, and wondered about the possibility of a merger. But NAU apparently paid that loan back. If Purdue wanted to buy Kaplan, and Arizona wants to buy Ashford — both of them awful predatory schools — maybe some other taxpayer-supported school will end up buying Independence U.