NACIQI Recommendation to SDO

ACICS Denounces NACIQI Recommendation to Terminate Recognition, Especially in Light of New OIG Report Corroborating ACICS Claims; Will Urge Senior Department Official to Recognize ACICS Is in Substantial Compliance with Recognition Criteria 

The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) voted today to recommend the Department of Education terminate recognition of ACICS. Michelle Edwards, ACICS President, issued the following statement in response to today’s non-binding recommendation to the Senior Department Official (SDO):

I fundamentally believe that ACICS is in substantial compliance with any objective, consistent, and reasonable interpretation of the recognition criteria. Over the past five years, ACICS has made important strides to strengthen our organization, our accountability, our procedures, and accreditation criteria.  ACICS’s recognition should be driven by the improvements we have made and our effectiveness as an accreditor today, not by policy priorities and outside pressure from political activists.  Unfortunately, we were not given that opportunity by NACIQI.

 It has been the longstanding practice of the Department of Education to grant recognition to accrediting agencies that are in substantial compliance with the recognition requirements, and continuous improvement has always been the guiding principle. But with today’s action, a different standard is being applied to ACICS. Indeed, several members of the NACIQI panel noted the lack of consistent application of the accreditation standards.  And yet, they went ahead and voted to hold ACICS to a different standard. This is contrary to regulations and is being done with no notice or any explanation of the change in formal policy.

Let me be clear: this should be seen as a fundamental shift in accreditation policy and a wake-up call to all accreditors.  If it is applied to all accreditors equally, and not just to ACICS, it would mean that all accreditors must now be in absolute compliance at all times.  Any incident of noncompliance, no matter how immaterial, would seemingly be cause for denial of continued recognition.

Furthermore, it is difficult to reconcile today’s recommendation with the findings of the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General, released March 2, 2021, which determined that the Department did not comply with the regulatory requirements in its 2016 review of ACICS.  The OIG also reviewed the work of the former Senior Department Official (SDO) and determined that the evidence supported the SDO’s decision in September 2018 that ACICS complied with 19 of the 21 recognition regulations in question and could demonstrate compliance with the two remaining regulations within 12 months. The OIG also found that the Office of the Under Secretary (“OUS”) in the Obama Administration exhibited disregard for the recognition regulations in ways that “unnecessarily slowed and negatively affected the recognition process for ACICS.” In addition, the OIG concluded that the Department’s lack of “detailed procedures…can and has led to inconsistencies across agency reviews regarding the amount of documentation that is deemed sufficient to demonstrate compliance with Federal recognition requirements.”

 Before today’s action, I believe that the Department of Education failed to apply the recognition criteria to ACICS in a fair and objective way.  I believe that Department staff has assumed facts simply not in evidence and ignored relevant evidence.  And I believe the Department staff has at times misread, misunderstood, or misapplied both the recognition regulations and the ACICS accreditation standards and policies in forming its recommendations. As a result, I believe ACICS is being held to standards and a level of scrutiny that are not applied to other accreditors, that fail to give my organization the appropriate professional discretion regarding the enforcement of our standards, and that are not required by the recognition regulations.

In short, I believe NACIQI relied on factors outside the recognition criteria, NACIQI failed to consider all relevant evidence, and NACIQI offered an explanation that runs counter to the evidence in the record.

 ACICS should be held to the same standard, the same rules and the same processes as any other accreditor.  Unfortunately, that has not been the case – far from it.

 ACICS now has 10 days to file comments with the Senior Department Official.  We will systematically document our assertions of bias and misapplication of the recognition regulations. And we will urge the SDO to reject the NACIQI recommendation and renew ACICS’s recognition based on all the evidence in the record, that I believe shows without question that we are in substantial compliance with all recognition criteria.