“The Dregs of Higher Education Damage Our Immigration System”

dregs2

This organization, whose slogan is Low-immigration, Pro-immigrant, is not one whose work I would normally cite but this is a well-researched report.  It is about an important issue I have been writing for quite some time now, a lone voice in the US higher education accreditation wilderness, so to speak.  There is more than one loophole, by the way.  The bottom line, both figuratively and literally, is that these institutions are gaming the system.  Sometimes, the “free market” is too free.  

The accreditor mentioned, ACICS, was derecognized by the US Department of Education in the waning days of the Obama Administration.  While I hoped for the best, i.e., that ACICS would go the way of the dinosaur, thereby resulting in the loss of institutional accreditation for all of its accredited institutions, I also had the nagging feeling that this ruling would appear on someone’s radar in the Trump Administration.  Why?  Because there’s so much money at $take.

This is an account of how, because of a loophole in the immigration law, dozens of U.S.-based, fourth-rate purveyors of higher education have had multiple negative impacts on the United States while raking in multi-millions of dollars. In the course of this they have:

  • Provided F-1 visas and work permits to tens of thousands of foreign “students”, many of whom are really illegal aliens in disguise;
  • Supplied nominal educational services, if any, to those aliens;
  • Charged those students substantial to outrageous fees;
  • Misled their students on the state of the entities’ academic accreditations;
  • Engaged in a variety of shady financial practices; and, in some cases
  • Used their status as “universities” to hire a suspiciously large numbers of aliens through the H-1B program, including, for example, English professors from Turkey;
  • Provided suspiciously large numbers of multiple-year OPT work permissions to their lightly educated alien alumni; and, in two or three cases,
  • Used their status as IRS-recognized charities to avoid substantial state and federal taxes.

Another problem is most regionally accredited (RA) institutions do not accept credits or credentials (degrees) from nationally accredited schools, for obvious reasons.  (RA is considered to be the gold standard of institutional accreditation.)  This is a fact that many NA schools do not share with prospective students.  

Follow this link to read the report in its entirety.

Peace, MAA

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ACICS is Back in Business!

acics logoAnd I do mean busine$$.  Yes, this is the same national accrediting organizing that was “derecognized” by the US Department of Education during the last few months of the Obama administration, a decision that stood until a couple of weeks ago.  Speaking of which, I was writing an email to a colleague about a previously Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)-accredited institution in California that was shut down.  In that email I mentioned that ACICS was going the way of the dinosaur.  Before hitting send, I decided to take a take a peek at its website.  Lo and behold, I saw this Message to Membership! in bold: Secretary of Education Orders Restoration of ACICS as a Federally Recognized Accrediting Agency as of December 2016 and Outlines Next Steps in the Compliance Review Process

Someone at ACICS, or probably one of its more influential supporters, put a bee in someone else’s bonnet, presumably someone in a position of power and, voilà, new life was breathed into ACICS.  (This NYT article from 1 April 2018 delves into some of this:  It Oversaw For-Profit Colleges That Imploded. Now It Seeks a Comeback.)  This has many implications, including the fact that all of the ACICS-accredited institutions that had to find new institutional accreditation by this June are suddenly off the hook.  It’s a happy day in National Accreditation Land.

What a relief for ACICS and its accredited schools.  What terrible news for those of us who value quality US higher education and are concerned about substandard institutions cashing in on the cachet of US education and, some cases, tarnishing its generally sterling reputation.  The half-full part of me was hoping that the Trump administration would overlook this tiny corner of US higher education and that there would be some justice, at least in this case.  But it was not meant to be, not with the likes of Trump and Betsy “Amway” DeVos calling the shots.  There’s simply too much money at stake.  And money, after all, is what drives key decisions in an oligarchy.

Keep in mind that this is the same ACICS that fell asleep at the wheel and allowed not-so-stellar universities like Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU) to exist.  It was because of the crack investigative reporting of Buzzfeed that the public, including a certain US senator from Connecticut, learned of this visa mill.  That’s when the shit really hit the fan. 

Then there was the great Silicon Valley University (SVU), another visa mill, also in northern California, that has been in the news, often in tandem with NPU.  Both were ACICS-accredited and both were family businesses masquerading as nonprofits.  (SVU had its accreditation revoked last December and NPU is accredited through 31.12.18, for what that’s worth.)  In both cases, no one was minding the shop. 

How is ACICS rewarded for this egregious lack of oversight?  Allowed to continue with business as usual, which reminds me of this 2017 Bill Maher editorial.  I’m waiting for the next shoe to drop. 

In a word, disgraceful

Peace, MAA

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

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