Students of for-profit colleges worry about loss of accreditation

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The U.S. Department of Education took the unprecedented step two weeks ago to withdraw accreditation authority from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the largest national accreditor of for-profit colleges.

The ripple effects are being felt in the 45 Southern California colleges accredited by ACICS, including Brightwood College in North Hollywood.

“I know all the issues. They did talk to us about it. And that’s very important to me, about accreditation and how that works,” said Daniela Herrera, a diagnostic medial sonography student.

Officials at her campus told her and other students that the school will remain open. Herrera trusts the school, so she’s not worried.

“I worried a little bit, I’m not going to lie,” said Nick Alvarez, a radiology technician student at the same campus.

Alvarez said he had thoughts of the recent closings of the ITT Tech and Corinthian College chains.

Brightwood officials said the school is taking steps to seek accreditation from another agency and will remain open.

The stakes for Brightwood and other schools accredited by ACICS are high. California requires accreditation for colleges that award degrees while the federal and state governments require accreditation for a college to receive the public financial aid awarded to a student.

The Accrediting Council is appealing the government’s decision. Accreditation is protected during the process.

The U.S. Department of Education said ACICS had “major problems” doing its job, including monitoring colleges it accredited and enforcing accrediting standards. Officials put out information for students on the department’s blog.

Brightwood officials would not comment on the alleged lax oversight of ACICS or the fraudulent actions of other for-profit chains. 

Some education researchers believe the good apples in the bunch should have done more to call attention to the bad apples.

“I’m assuming as a citizen of California, that when I take classes at an institution that there is someone who has regulated it and says that this is acceptable behavior,” said USC education researcher Bill Tierney.

The growth of the for-profit college industry in the last decade, Tierney said, was like a gold rush and the closing of the for profit chains in the last year and the action against ACICS is a shakeout that will separate the wheat from the chaff.

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