February 28, 2024

Accreditor COE Approved Corrupt Schools. There Should Be Consequences.

Accreditor COE Approved Corrupt Schools. There Should Be Consequences.

Today 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:

In April 2020, I wrote an article about a lawsuit against Florida Career College, alleging the school targeted students of color with deceptive high-pressure sales and left them with overwhelming debt. I was soon contacted by numerous FCC staff. They described abuses: blatant rigging of ability to benefit exams, luring prospective students with false promises of jobs, and admitting students whose disabilities, or criminal convictions, would prevent them from obtaining the jobs they sought.

One employee said, “It’s worse than you can ever imagine.” Another called FCC “the most corrupt institution I have ever seen in my life.”

I published a report, the Department of Education investigated, and it found extensive evidence of violations. Last year it announced it would remove FCC from federal aid. This month, it reached an agreement under which the company’s CEO resigned.

What did COE do? Apparently nothing until May 2020, when it placed FCC on “Apparent Deficiency” status. After that, it deferred action on renewing FCC, until the school voluntarily withdrew last month.

In October 2021, ratifying NACIQI’s recommendation, the Department told COE it had one year to improve its compliance, including as to complaints of fraud and criminal activity at FCC.

Now the Department staff finds COE in compliance and recommends recognition be renewed for two years, five months – which sounds like half the maximum, but, with the delays in the process, that adds up to the same five-year period that the best-performing accreditors receive.

For too long, accreditation has lived in a parallel world where boxes are checked and blatant failures are ignored. The Department’s enforcement action shows FCC was long engaged in violations and should not have been accredited. COE did not detect these abuses and, once they were exposed, did not promptly deal with them. That indicates COE’s standards were not effective and not effectively implemented. 

FCC isn’t the only troubling COE school. For example, in 2021 Texas-based Vista College suddenly shut down, leaving students locked out and deep in debt.

If there aren’t real consequences for accreditor failures, then the system is failing. NACIQI should vote to extend COE for one year, and require it to demonstrate compliance before it can be renewed. COE should be actively looking at whether its schools are engaged in violations, not just checking boxes. The Department should be doing the same with accreditors.