As 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.
One 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
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.
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.