July 29, 2020

Win For Students, Loss for DeVos Department, on College Accreditor Fight

Win For Students, Loss for DeVos Department, on College Accreditor Fight

The U.S. Department of Education’s outside advisory committee, NACIQI, dominated by Republicans, voted 9-2 late this afternoon to reject the Department’s sham proposal, pushed by political appointees of Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, to punish the accrediting agency Higher Learning Commission. DeVos aides are seeking to penalize HLC over its 2017 decision to suspend accreditation of two career colleges, the Art Institutes of Illinois and Colorado.

The schools had just been purchased by an untested new owner, Dream Center Education Holdings, and HLC had every right to put the breaks on accreditation pending a review. Instead of appealing HLC’s action, DCEH lied to students, claiming the school remained accredited. Instead of pressing HLC to reverse its decision, the DeVos Department let students be deceived.

After this deception blew up in public — we first reported it — Diane Auer Jones, DeVos’s top high education aide and a former for-profit college executive, made inept efforts to fix the problem and made repeated false statements to Congress about the matter.

Then, instead of holding Dream Center accountable or taking responsibility for its own misconduct, the Department decided to blame HLC for this debacle.

But DCEH’s bad stewardship, marked by deceptive practices, conflicts of interest, financial recklessness, and basic incompetence, vindicated HLC’s decision to declare the schools unaccredited. 

The NACIQI panel also voted unanimously today to put into the record the House Education and Labor Committee’s new report on the matter, which was harshly critical of the Department and documented many of the false statements Jones made to Congress.

The NACIQI vote was a remarkable development, especially after the Department’s point man, Assistant Secretary Bob King, attacked the panel of public commenters at the meeting who urged NACIQI not to punish HLC.  King said the criticisms of his boss, Jones, were coming mostly from former Obama administration aides, that they were “unwarranted, partisan, totally false,” and that Jones is “among the most..honest colleagues with whom I have worked.” 

I would like to know where Bob King previously worked.

King also claimed that the central issue is that schools “live in abject fear of their accreditors.” In truth, predatory colleges, like the one where Diane Jones worked, have long gotten away with every kind of deceptive and abusive practice while staying accredited and thus getting taxpayer dollars. 

HLC’s officials and lawyers engaged in a lengthy, and skillful, presentation to counter King. Then the public commenters had all of three minutes each to speak. I somehow got to go first, followed by one of the best line-up cards in memory:

Win For Students, Loss for DeVos Department, on College Accreditor Fight

One of these commenters even managed to close her telephoned-in remarks with some sly walk-off music.

A designated Department senior official, Deputy Secretary Mitchell Zais, now is empowered to overrule the NACIQI panel, and, given his improper actions in the past with respect to investigations of accreditors, he probably will. 

But given all the ways this administration is imploding as it favors special interests over workers, consumers, taxpayers, civil rights, and, yes, students — and also given Betsy DeVos’s long string of losses in the courts over her illegal actions — any such final decision by DeVos’s department may not hold up for long.