July 21, 2022

Accreditor SACS Fails to Stop Abuses at Keiser University

Accreditor SACS Fails to Stop Abuses at Keiser University

I’m offering a comment at today’s session of the Department of Education’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), a board of outside experts charged with evaluating the private accreditation agencies that, in turn, oversee the quality of colleges and serve as gatekeepers for colleges’ eligibility for federal student grants and loans.

My statement today follows up on an extensive written comment I submitted last year, asking the Department, in its 2022 review of the accreditor Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS), to consider the failure of SACS to hold accountable for abuses three schools connected to wealthy college owner Arthur Keiser.

Revealing how higher education oversight is stacked against students, Arthur Keiser is actually the chairman of NACIQI, having been appointed to the panel by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives and made chair in 2017 by his fellow panelists. (Keiser has recused himself from the portion of the meeting addressing SACS, as Department guidelines indicate he should have.)

Here’s what I plan to say at NACIQI today:

I appreciate that SACS’s job is challenging. Accreditors are caught between the demands of schools, the Department, advocates, and now, for SACS, Florida politicians.

But accreditors must take seriously their obligations as gatekeepers for federal aid, because students’ futures are in their hands. When schools offer poor quality or low integrity, accreditors must act, ensuring compliance with their standards and the law.

When it comes to Keiser University and related schools, it appears SACS has allowed abuses to go on with impunity.

SACS claims most of the allegations I’ve raised in my written comment concern the distant past. Not true.

Keiser settlements with the Justice Department and Florida attorney general over predatory practices were in the last cycle, but remain important context. There were no apparent consequences from SACS.

A central abuse, the improper conversion to nonprofit that greatly enriches the Keisers, is ongoing. Just as SACS was wrong to accept the conversion in the first place, they were wrong to not address it effectively in this cycle.

That the conversion deal is improper was reaffirmed in the past year when a Keiser IRS filing and House Education Committee letter collectively revealed that the IRS found some leases between Keiser-owned companies and the nonprofit school were above market value, and imposed penalties.

Other conduct I’ve described has been publicly reported in this cycle:

This includes:

  • The overlap of personnel and resources between non-profit Keiser University and Southeastern College, a for-profit school owned by the Keisers;
  • Deceptive recruiting at Keiser University, as reported to me by numerous staff;
  • Personal misconduct by Keiser executives;
  • The allegation that Keiser staff deceived a SACS delegation visiting the school’s Shanghai campus;
  • The naming of Arthur Keiser’s son, just after obtaining his doctorate from a for-profit school, as executive vice chancellor for Keiser’s graduate school. He may well be an outstanding administrator and scholar, but such a hire is more suited to a family-owned business than a non-profit college with an independent board;
  • Finally, the replacement of the Weber/ St. Andrews board mostly with people connected to Arthur Keiser, the naming of a Keiser employee as the St. Andrews’s president, and the co-location of St. Andrews’s new satellite campuses with locations of the Keisers’ for-profit Southeastern.

Senior members of Congress this year have called on the Department to investigate Keiser University. What has SACS done?  If the answer is not much, and NACIQI and the Department don’t do much, then the system is failing taxpayers and students. 

UPDATE 07-21-22 3:50 pm:

At today’s meeting, NACIQI member Robert Shireman extensively questioned representatives of SACS about the Keiser non-profit conversion. Belle Wheelan, the president of SACSCOC, said in closing remarks, “Regarding Mr. Halperin’s comments… Keiser, I believe, is about to do their fifth year review. And the financial and personnel issues that you identified would be a part of that review, so we’ll go back and see if there’s anything there. I still say that we were found in compliance with our process eleven years ago when this case came to be an issue. But we will do our due diligence this time in reviewing them again.”