February 27, 2023

Education Department Should Penalize Accreditor HLC For Tolerating Predatory Colleges

Education Department Should Penalize Accreditor HLC For Tolerating Predatory Colleges

Tomorrow I’m scheduled to present brief comments (3 minutes max allowed) at a meeting of NACIQI, the U.S. Department of Education’s advisory committee charged with reviewing the performance of the private accrediting agencies that oversee quality at colleges and universities. Here’s what I plan to say:

Many students say a school’s status as accredited, and the resulting seal of approval and aid from the Department of Education, are central reasons they enroll. Because accreditors are gatekeepers for federal aid, their oversight is critical to prevent the fleecing of students and taxpayers by unethical schools.

So I appreciate that the Department has started to incorporate concerns about badly behaving schools more in its reviews of accreditors, starting with ACICS

In delaying approval of ACCSC, the Department noted that accreditor’s long failure to take decisive action against the CEHE schools. Then in November the Department determined that SACS was out of compliance, and directed SACS to provide more information regarding Keiser University.

One of the staff reports for this meeting finds WASC out of compliance for its failure to deal with blatant recruiting abuses at Ashford University, now called UAGC. 

The staff reports on Middle States and New England Commission don’t have similar discussions, but it’s significant that recently Middle States withdrew accreditation from bad actor ASA College, and New England terminated Bay State College.

But as to HLC, the staff report dismisses third party concerns about HLC-accredited schools. I defended HLC at NACIQI when Secretary DeVos blamed them, unfairly, for the Dream Center debacle. But I can’t defend HLC’s long-time toleration of abuses at schools including Walden, DeVry, Grand Canyon, and two others I will highlight – University of Phoenix and schools run by Perdoceo, American Intercontinental and Colorado Technical.

In 2015, the Pentagon temporarily banned the University of Phoenix from recruiting service members based on evidence of recruiting violations. In 2019, Phoenix agreed to pay 191 million dollars to resolve Federal Trade Commission charges it ran ads falsely suggesting it worked with big employers to create jobs for students.

Amazingly, Phoenix is now running ads falsely implying it is a state school, rather than a for-profit.

If these are the kinds of brazen falsehoods University of Phoenix is willing to tell out in the open, imagine what their recruiters might be telling prospective students — veterans, single mothers, immigrants, first generation college aspirants — one on one.

The graduation rate for Phoenix’s main campus is 14 percent. 

Last year, Phoenix named as its president George Burnett, the former head of Westwood College, which shut down after Illinois sued it for cruel deceptions of low-income students. Burnett resigned after the Department raised questions about his tenure at Westwood.

Yet in January HLC renewed Phoenix’s accreditation for a full 10 years

Perdoceo, meanwhile, in 2019 agreed to a 494 million dollar settlement with 48 states over deceptive practices. It also agreed to pay $30 million to settle FTC charges it recruited students through deceptive third-party lead generators. 

Numerous recent Perdoceo employees have told the Department that company recruiters continue to make deceptive sales pitches

Many of the victims here are low income. These schools should not be accredited. They should not get taxpayer dollars. HLC should not be renewed until it takes decisive action against them.