US Department of Education “Derecognition” of ACICS, & EducationUSA

edusa logoAs I’ve written before and as some of you may know, EducationUSA, a US Department of State network of over 400 international student advising centers in more than 170 countries,works with both regionally and nationally accredited US institutions of higher education. 

Among the latter are hundreds of institutions, mostly for-profit career schools, that are accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).  ACICS was derecognized by the US Department of Education in late 2016 after a series of investigative reports about a couple of its accredited schools.  This decision has stood in the new administration, much to my surprise, especially given the fact that Betsy “Amway” DeVos is the US secretary of education. 

VIU logoOne example of an ACICS-accredited institution that I’ve seen on the EducationUSA website and Facebook page is Virginia International University (VIU), located in Fairfax, VA, outside of Washington, D.C.  Like all other ACICS-accredited schools, VIU now has about five (5) more months to obtain another institutional accreditation.  This means that if it doesn’t and you’re a VIU student who is not expected to graduate until after that date, your alma mater could very well end up being unaccredited, the higher education equivalent of a company’s stock hitting rock bottom. 

Accreditation is an official stamp of approval that enables higher education institutions recruit international students but even without it they can retain their SEVP-approved status and still issue I-20s.  More about that disgrace in another post.

 Upmarket Visa Mill

us higher ed export

In case you missed this BuzzFeed investigative report, one of several, about Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU) in Fremont, CA, one of the worst ACICS-accredited schools, here are some excerpts.  (While NPU is a nonprofit, it is a money-making machine for the Chinese-American family that owns it, as you can see in this report.)  Italics are mine. 

A college on the edge of Silicon Valley has turned itself into an upmarket visa mill, a BuzzFeed News investigation has found, deploying a system of fake grades and enabling thousands of foreign students to enter the United States each year — while generating millions of dollars in tuition revenue for the school and the family who controls it.

Spending millions on foreign recruiters, Northwestern Polytechnic University enrolls 99% of its students — more than 6,000 overall last year — from overseas, with little regard for their qualifications. It has no full-time, permanent faculty, despite having a student body larger than the undergraduate population of Princeton.

The school issues grades that are inflated, or simply made up, so that academically unqualified students can keep their visas, along with the overseas bank loans that allow the students to pay their tuition. For two years, top college administrators forbade professors from failing any students at all, and the university’s president once personally raised hundreds of student grades — by hand.

Those false credentials are all the students need to stay in the country. Many seek jobs in the tech industry, and their degrees allow them to remain working in the U.S. for years, avoiding the scrutiny of immigration officials that would have come if they had applied for a standard work visa.

The university operates as a nonprofit, with all the tax benefits that status confers. But its assets, which topped $77 million in 2014, have enriched the family that has controlled it for decades. The school has purchased homes for family members to live in, one of which cost more than $2 million. When it comes to educating students, however, NPU has spent astonishingly little. The $1.5 million it paid for a home occupied by the executive vice president and his family was more than it reported spending on the combined salaries of the school’s entire faculty and staff in 2014.

Even the university’s academic accreditation — which the school relied on in order to admit a flood of foreign students — is suspect: When the accreditor came for a site visit, the university staged a Potemkin village of a college, enlisting instructors to pretend they were full-time professors, prepping students with false answers to inspectors’ questions, and once even hiring a fake librarian.

When a whistleblower handed over a letter detailing the college’s bad behavior, the accreditor asked for a thin explanation, accepted it at face value, and issued no sanctions.

“Immediate Action”

This is an issue I have been writing and speaking about for years, a lone voice in the US higher education accreditation wilderness.  After a series of articles was published and the proverbial shit hit the fan,  so to speak, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) demanded “immediate action.”  This is the power of the press to effective positive change.  These results are few and far between so be sure to savor them.

The rest, as they say, is history.  ACICS was derecognized (love that word!) by the US Dept of Education for falling asleep at the wheel or not minding the store – pick your favorite idiom.  The bottom line is that ACICS-accredited schools will be unaccredited by June 2018, unless they get another form of accreditation, which is unlikely for many. 

 Stay tuned for more intrigue! 
 
MAA
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ACICS Loss of Accreditation: What it Means for Schools & International Students

acics-loss-of-accreditation
Facebook post on 22.12.16  by EducationUSA

Here is the official announcement from the US Department of Homeland Security that the US Department of Education no longer recognizes the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency, a decision that affects more than 16,000 international students in the US attending nearly 130 Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified schools and programs that are accredited by ACICS. (There are also implications for the significantly higher number of US Americans students enrolled in these mostly for-profit schools.)

This is an issue I’ve been writing and talking about for a long time, including in the hallowed pages of this blog. The only reason it has come to this is because of the crack investigative reporting of BuzzFeed and the fact that a couple of political leaders, one at the state and another at the national level, took an interest in the sordid results of this long-term lack of oversight.  ACICS essentially dug its own grave by not minding the store. The gig is finally up.

Here’s a blog post I wrote last summer about this reporting and Northwestern Polytechnic University in Fremont, CA.  There are others.  Consider my post an introduction to the rather large elephant in the room, which DHS and EducationUSA chose to ignore.

Another pending issue is the fact that a number of SEVP-certified  schools are not accredited, which means there is no quality assurance or maintenance.  As the announcement points out, “Most SEVP-certified schools are not required to obtain accreditation and can provide evidence in lieu of accreditation.”  To be continued…

MAA

“Homeland Security Wants To Shut Down South Bay University”

Kudos to the DHS!  This is what the US government should be doing, instead of creating faux universities (exhibit A:  University of Northern New Jersey) and entrapping people.  They have plenty of work on their hands with existing institutions, including those that are “officially accredited” (read nationally accredited) and unaccredited but authorized to issue I-20s.

cheating next exitCalifornia South Bay University (CSBU) is one rogue provider that knows the value of regional accreditation as the gold standard of institutional accreditation in the US.  Perhaps it’s a long-term goal or a dream but it’s certainly not yet a reality.  It added it to its website, even though it’s a bald-faced lie.  Go to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database and do a search for CSBU.  Let me know what you find out.  This is the result I got:

Search Results: 0 institutions found for ‘california south bay university’
Please use alternative search criteria.

MAA

california-south-bay-university

Choosing Clients & Partners is a Two-Way Street: Quality Matters

Money is how companies with no ethical compass measure success.2-way-street

The company I work for, Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company founded in 2009, with offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), works exclusively with regionally accredited (RA) institutions of higher education in the US.  As far as I know, it’s the only company in Viet Nam, and indeed the world, that has this policy. (If you know of another, let me know!  A prize to the first person whose answer I’m able to confirm.)

Why?  Because quality and integrity are more important than money.  Since regional accreditation is the gold standard of institutional accreditation in the US, students and parents can be assured that minimum standards of quality have been met and maintained.  US higher education fair attendees can be assured that there are no “bad apples” in the ballroom.  US higher education colleagues who choose to work with the company can be assured of honor by association. Capstone has politely declined to work with quite a few schools because the company you keep and the standards you uphold take precedence over cash flow.

Nationally accredited (NA) institutions, while “officially accredited,” are not in the same academic league as their RA cousins.  In fact, in terms of quality and ethics, some of them comprise a veritable rogue’s gallery of schools, including those that are essentially visa mills.  Moreover, the majority of these schools do not inform students and parents that most RA institutions will not accept credits and credentials transferred from NA schools.  Why is that, I wonder?

gold-standardFor most educational consulting companies, it’s all about “showing me the money”, which means they’ll work with anyone who can afford to pay them, including rogue providers (unaccredited schools), in some cases.  Money is how companies with no ethical compass measure success.  For Capstone, it’s about quality first, which I find refreshing in the often murky and foul world of educational consulting.

MAA

“Regulators Vote to Shut Down Nation’s Largest For-Profit Accrediting Agency”

The vote came after widespread criticism that the agency had provided inadequate oversight. 

ACICS logoSome good news for a change. “Inadequate oversight” is one way of  putting it.  This organization, which was entrusted with the sacred task of accrediting postsecondary institutions, abdicated its responsibility in a number of cases, pure and simple.  Why is the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), the largest for-profit accreditor in the US, going the way of the dinosaur?  Because someone with power, someone in an official capacity, was finally on to them.  How?  Because of the outstanding work of two investigative reporters from BuzzFeed.  (See the two articles below.)  I’ve been writing about bottom feeder nationally accredited institutions and the lack of oversight for years but I was just a lone voice in the higher education wilderness.

Making The Grades
How one California university faked students’ scores, skated by immigration authorities — and made a fortune in the process. (5/16)

These Obscure Colleges Sign Up Thousands Of Foreign Students With Little Oversight
The little-known Northwestern Polytechnic University now enrolls more international students than almost any other U.S. college. (1/16)

Regulators Vote to Shut Down Nation’s Largest For-Profit Accrediting Agency

In a huge victory for opponents of for-profit schools, a federal panel voted Thursday to shut down the largest accrediting agency of private sector colleges and universities amid intense criticism in recent years for loose oversight of educational institutions.

The 10-3 decision, handed down Thursday by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, effectively eliminates access to federal financial aid to hundreds of schools accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools that enroll nearly 800,000 students.

To read the article in its entirety, feast your eyes here.

Perhaps there will be some future posts about the ripple effect of this historic vote to shut down ACICS, including the impact on entities that represent “officially accredited” US colleges and universities, i.e., EducationUSA, and those that allow their certified agents to work with these institutions, e.g., the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC). Stay tuned!

I won’t say “I told you so” just a heartfelt and hearty “Farewell, ACICS!”  Many of us in the know won’t miss you.  It’s high time for whatever replaces you and many of your accredited institutions to take their game to the next level, or become irrelevant.

MAA

“Making The Grades”

How one California university faked students’ scores, skated by immigration authorities — and made a fortune in the process.

I derive absolutely no pleasure at all from saying “I told you so.”  (OK, maybe just a little.)  This is an issue I have been talking and writing about for years.  I think the only reason the US government made the decision to finally focus on it and target Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU) as a poster boy for bad higher education behavior is because of the outstanding investigative reporting of BuzzFeed.  I can assure you there are more where this came from.  Oh, and NPU is nationally accredited by ACICS, which the US Department of Education has recommended be closed.  Coincidence, anyone? 

Congratulations to Molly Hensley-Clancy and her BuzzFeed colleagues!

MAA

A college on the edge of Silicon Valley has turned itself into an upmarket visa mill, a BuzzFeed News investigation has found, deploying a system of fake grades and enabling thousands of foreign students to enter the United States each year — while generating millions of dollars in tuition revenue for the school and the family who controls it.

Spending millions on foreign recruiters, Northwestern Polytechnic University enrolls 99% of its students — more than 6,000 overall last year — from overseas, with little regard for their qualifications. It has no full-time, permanent faculty, despite having a student body larger than the undergraduate population of Princeton.

The school issues grades that are inflated, or simply made up, so that academically unqualified students can keep their visas, along with the overseas bank loans that allow the students to pay their tuition. For two years, top college administrators forbade professors from failing any students at all, and the university’s president once personally raised hundreds of student grades — by hand.

Those false credentials are all the students need to stay in the country. Many seek jobs in the tech industry, and their degrees allow them to remain working in the U.S. for years, avoiding the scrutiny of immigration officials that would have come if they had applied for a standard work visa.

The university operates as a nonprofit, with all the tax benefits that status confers. But its assets, which topped $77 million in 2014, have enriched the family that has controlled it for decades. The school has purchased homes for family members to live in, one of which cost more than $2 million. When it comes to educating students, however, NPU has spent astonishingly little. The $1.5 million it paid for a home occupied by the executive vice president and his family was more than it reported spending on the combined salaries of the school’s entire faculty and staff in 2014.

Even the university’s academic accreditation — which the school relied on in order to admit a flood of foreign students — is suspect: When the accreditor came for a site visit, the university staged a Potemkin village of a college, enlisting instructors to pretend they were full-time professors, prepping students with false answers to inspectors’ questions, and once even hiring a fake librarian.

When a whistleblower handed over a letter detailing the college’s bad behavior, the accreditor asked for a thin explanation, accepted it at face value, and issued no sanctions.

NPU looks very different than the handful of unaccredited, for-profit visa mills that were exposed and shut down after a government crackdown in 2011. It has far more students, and they do attend classes with teachers. Some of its students say they got valuable educations.

NPU’s president, Peter Hsieh, and his second-in-command, Paul Choi, refused through a representative to answer any questions in person or by phone when a reporter came to the university’s campus and to a conference in Dallas where Choi was in attendance. Through the representative, Hsieh and Choi asked to speak with an editor to discuss potential legal action against a person they believed was a source for the article.

In response to BuzzFeed News’ detailed outline of the allegations in this story, Hsieh wrote that the school offers a high-quality education to future business and technology leaders and has made “significant strides” in his time as president. The university, he said, maintains its fiduciary responsibility to its students, investing in quality faculty and planning for facilities improvements.

The school “denies your allegations of impropriety,” Hsieh wrote. He said that the school is “designing new policies for proper grade differentiation and thoroughly investigating and addressing academic deficiencies” and has spent “hundreds of hours updating and improving financial practices.”

“We have taken your allegations – albeit unfounded – seriously”

“We do not believe this is the proper forum to discuss the intricacies and operational details of NPU,” Hsieh wrote. “That said, we have taken your allegations — albeit unfounded — seriously, and will give them careful attention.”

BuzzFeed News has examined a trove of internal university documents, including more than a thousand of pages of bank statements, emails, and student records, and interviewed more than a dozen current and former students, faculty, and staff.

What emerged is a portrait of a university that epitomizes many of the key weaknesses in the American higher education and immigration systems: an institution that has used its nonprofit status to enrich its leaders and used its accreditation to dodge more stringent national security requirements.

Follow this link to read the rest of the article.

“These Obscure Colleges Sign Up Thousands Of Foreign Students With Little Oversight”

Both Northwestern Polytechnic and Silicon Valley University are accredited, a distinction that allows colleges with many foreign students to avoid the most stringent oversight. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s student visa program depends on the accreditation system: it requires less documentation from accredited schools that want authorization to admit foreign students than it asks of unaccredited schools.

npu

Not All Types of Accreditation Are Created Equal

This is ironic because accredited institutions are supposed to be held to a higher standard.  Of course, there are different levels of accreditation and different types of accreditors.  National accreditation (NA), the category into which both NPU and SVU fall, is not to be confused with regional accreditation (RA), considered to be the gold standard.  NA is much easier and much less expensive to obtain.  While most NA entities are for-profit online and career schools, quite a few are nonprofits, which gives them more legitimacy, in the eyes of many.

Once an institution receives accreditation and it obtains SEVP Certification, which gives it the authority to issue I-20s, it can pretty much run on autopilot until a scandal of some sort surfaces in the media.  The article on which this post is based is Exhibit A.

Truth in Advertising?

Another point, which I’ve mentioned on many occasions, is the fact that most RA schools do not accept credits or credentials from NA schools, for obvious reasons.  This means if a NPU or SVU students want to transfer, they must start over again, in most cases.  This is also an issue that the US government – through EducationUSA – must address sooner rather than later, since EdUSA represents all “officially accredited” US colleges and universities.

$how Me The Money! 

Here’s one of the money paragraphs in the article, pun intended.

Thanks to its huge surge in enrollment, NPU took in $40 million in 2014, and spent $12 million — leaving it with a $28 million surplus…

Hmm, let’s see.  Revenue of $40 million with $12 million in expenses and a $28 million surplus translates into a 70% profit margin.   Nonprofits are also tax-exempt, if I’m not mistaken, which means that’s $28 mill tax-free.   Not too shabby.  In addition, the value of NPU’s assets jumped from $46.53 million to $75.32 million in 2014.  Also not too shabby.  In fact, that’s one hell of a business model.

Speaking of tax-exempt, NPU might want to find someone to proofread their 990 form.  Here are some excerpts from the 2014 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax:

Summary:  TO PROVIDE AN ADVANCE EDUCATION AND A HIGH TECHNOLOGY LEARNING ENVILROMENT THAT MOTIVATS STUDENTS TO PURSUE …

Organization’s Mission:  …NPU SEEKS TO PREPARE ITS STUDENTS TO BEGIN AND ENHANCE THEIR PROFESSIONAL CAREERS IN COMPUTERS, ENGINEERING, AND BUSINESS THROUGH STUDY IN BOTH UNDERGADUATE AND GARADUATE CURRICULA.

Ouch!

Who’s Minding the Store?

From a colleague who shares my concerns about this issue:

  1. What are the odds students are told up front about the RA vs NA distinction?
  2. What are the odds students are being introduced to quality options?

These are rhetorical questions.  You know the answers, sadly.

Where are the referrals coming from?  You know where.  From education agents whose primary, or exclusive, concern is money and how much they can make – pronto.  These are what one colleague referred to as “bottom feeding agents.”  Students who attend these types of universities generally fall into two categories:  1)  those who think it’s something that it’s not because an agent sells them a bill of goods (they show up, discover the deception and look for quality transfer opportunities); and 2) those whom a well-known colleague aka accreditation expert calls “willing co-conspirators,” who – with a wink and a nod – go, pay 20k a year (tuition/fees only) and wait for the chance to work and eventually emigrate. The latter know the score.

As one colleague put it, “It’s a great illustration of how lax oversight by the US government perpetuates agent misconduct and gives professionals of all stripes a bad name in the process. ”

Easy as Pie

These schools know which hoops to jump through & which buttons to push (we’re legal, we’re accredited, we’re American!).  Meanwhile, too many student visa applications are being denied because the interviewing consular officers think or feel that the young people standing on the other side of the window, most of whom have letters of admission and I-20s from RA institutions, might be trying to use the F1 to emigrate.

In addition to the article, check out both university websites and form your own opinion.  Note that the new president of NPU is the son of the former and first president.  That’s called keeping it in the family.  In 2014, President George Hsieh earned $299,792 and his son, Peter, then Executive Vice President and Officer, earned $257,292.

Follow this link to read the article in its entirety.  A Vietnamese translation is forthcoming.  And the truth will set you free.  Stay tuned!

Finally, kudos to BuzzFeed reporters, Molly Hensley-Clancy and Brendan Klinkenberg!  I should probably create a series entitled Set Thine House in Order, which I kicked off with a recent post about mass shootings and study in the USA.

MAA

Bonus:  Here’s a 23 December 2015 article from The Times of India entitled ‘University of Manavallu’: In Silicon Valley, a dodgy Chinese-Telugu alliance.
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