Accreditation Information for Schools Accredited by ACICS

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On December 12, 2016, John King Jr., the U.S. secretary of education, made the Education Department’s final decision to terminate recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).

The United States Department of Education’s withdrawal of recognition of ACICS as a nationally-recognized accrediting agency was the final step in a process that has played out throughout the past year as the Department has taken several steps to review the eligibility of ACICS. These review steps have included:

  • June 23, 2016—NACIQI, the independent board that advises the Department of Education on accreditation, voted 10-3 in support of the Department’s recommendation to end recognition of ACICS.
  • September 22, 2016—A senior official at the Department of Education reviewed and upheld the NACIQI and Department staff recommendations to end recognition of ACICS.
  • October 21, 2016—ACICS appealed the senior official’s decision to end the accrediting agency’s federal recognition. This appeal was subsequently sent to the U.S. Secretary of Education to consider and make the final decision of the Department.
  • December 12, 2016—The U.S. Secretary of Education announced his decision to withdraw recognition of ACICS by the U.S. Department of Education.

Eligibility for Federal Student Aid

What happens to schools now that the Department no longer recognizes ACICS as an accrediting agency?

Because ACICS can no longer be recognized as an agency that provides schools with an accreditation that makes them eligible for participation in federal aid programs, schools accredited by ACICS must either seek new approval from another accreditor or cease participation in the federal student aid programs. However, per federal guidelines, schools have 18 months to seek out approval from another accrediting agency, and during that time students will continue to be eligible for federal aid. To help assure these schools are on-track to achieve new accreditation, the U.S. Department of Education has placed additional requirements and benchmarks for schools to meet at intervals within that 18-month time period. A summary of these federal requirements can be found at http://www2.ed.gov/documents/acics/ppa-provisions.pdf.

Eligibility for the Pennsylvania State Grant Program

The requirement of approved accreditation for aid eligibility also applies to the Pennsylvania State Grant Program.

The Commonwealth has provided, through Act 149 of 2016, for the Pennsylvania State Grant Program and other state aid to be available for eligible students enrolled at ACICS institutions during an 18-month transition period, consistent with federal eligibility. During this period, the Act states that “When advancing financial assistance funds during a school’s transition to new accreditation, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency may follow the United States Department of Education’s issuance of Federal Title IV Financial Assistance, along with any other terms and conditions applied during this transition.”

Institutional eligibility to participate in the Pennsylvania State Grant Program requires each school to be appropriately accredited as follows:

  1. A college or university located within the Commonwealth—shall be accredited or a recognized candidate for accreditation with an accrediting body recognized by the United States Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and its successors

    A college or university located outside the Commonwealth—shall be fully accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the United States Department of Education or the regional institutional accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and its successors responsible for accreditation in the state where the college or university is conducting its educational program.

  2. A hospital school of nursing located within the Commonwealth—shall be accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC), the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), or any other accrediting body recognized by the United States Department of Education for the accreditation of nursing schools;

    A hospital school of nursing located outside the Commonwealth—shall be accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC), the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), or any other accrediting body recognized by the United States Department of Education for the accreditation of nursing schools.

  3. A trade, technical or business school located within the Commonwealth—shall be accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the United States Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and its successors,

    A trade, technical or business school located outside the Commonwealth—shall be fully accredited by the United States Department of Education or the regional institutional accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and its successors responsible for accreditation in the state where the institution is conducting its educational program.

Please note that licensing for certain jobs requires that your program be currently accredited by an accreditor that is approved by the United States Department of Education. Act 149 of 2016 also addressed this issue, whereas students at schools currently accredited by ACICS will continue to be eligible for all state licensure during the 18-month transition provided for schools to seek new accreditation.

Per guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, many students will be able to complete their programs of study during that 18 month window of continued aid eligibility. Those who will not complete their programs of study in that 18-month transition, should closely monitor their school’s progress towards attaining new accreditation through another federally-recognized accrediting agency. If a school is not on track to receive new accreditation on time, then students are advised to consider transferability of coursework and eligibility for any required occupational licensure when contemplating their enrollment options.