Students attending three Sacramento area for-profit colleges stand to lose financial aid if the federal government shuts down their accrediting agency.
The move would threaten many of the 847 for-profit schools that rely on the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, since federal financial aid is their primary source of income. But officials at two local schools expressed confidence that they can find another accrediting agency that passes federal muster.
An independent federal panel voted 10-3 last month to recommend that the U.S. Department of Education no longer recognize the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. Education Department staff previously recommended the same path, alleging that the accrediting agency failed to provide sufficient oversight for its schools.
Locally, the decision could affect more than 1,200 local students attending ITT Technical Institute in Rancho Cordova, Cambridge Junior College based in Yuba City and Brightwood College in North Highlands.
A high-level federal official will make a final judgment on whether to close the accrediting agency in September. If it closes, schools will have at least 18 months to find new accreditation or face losing financial aid, say federal officials.
Cambridge Junior College officials already have begun the process of seeking accreditation from another agency, said Sandy Fowler, Cambridge College director of institutional effectiveness and education.
“I have no doubt we will continue to be an accredited institution,” Fowler said. “It’s not a reflection on us. It’s an action against the accreditor, not us. We will continue to go on.”
The decision to close the accrediting agency comes as scrutiny of private for-profit colleges has ratcheted up. At least 17 of the colleges certified by ACICS have faced state and federal investigations, according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy organization in Washington. Over the past three years, those schools received more than $5.7 billion in federal money.
ACICS gave its stamp of approval to the Corinthian Colleges chain, which closed in 2015 amid fraud allegations, as well as the ITT Technical Institute chain, which faces federal charges of fraud.
Fowler said it is unfair for the entire for-profit college sector to have its reputation tarnished because of a few bad schools. “There are a lot of people doing really great work in the sector,” she said.
ITT Technical Institute in Rancho Cordova has 510 students who pay an average of $23,022 annually to take classes in business, communications, computer information sciences, engineering technologies, health professions, law enforcement, firefighting, homeland security, legal professions and the visual and performing arts, according to federal data. The school has a 37 percent graduation rate – about the national average. Seventy-eight percent of students receive federal aid.
Some representatives at the school hung up when asked for comment by phone, while others didn’t return calls.
Cambridge Junior College campuses in Yuba City and Woodland serve a total of 167 students, who take classes in health professions, business, marketing and related fields at an average cost of $21,496 annually, according to federal data. Seventy-seven percent of its students graduate and 54 percent of the students receive federal loans.
Fowler disagrees with the amount listed for tuition, saying students typically spend about $16,000 annually.
She said the school’s student population generally includes working adults, including single mothers, who have additional obligations beyond school. “They have a lot on their plates. They need a teacher that will call them when they are absent and ask how they are doing,” she said. “Basic customer service.”
Brightwood College in North Highlands, formerly Kaplan College, offers certificates or associate’s degrees in criminal justice, as well as for students pursuing careers as medical assistants, dental assistants, pharmacy technicians, medical office specialists and vocational nurses.
Although there was no listing for Brightwood on the U.S. Department of Education College Scoreboard website, it did show that Kaplan College – at the same location – has 520 students and a 67 percent graduation rate. The cost of tuition for one year averages $26,900. Fifty-nine percent of the students receive federal aid.
“We are exploring our options so that we can remain accredited,” said Diane Worthington, spokeswoman for The Education Corporation of America, which operates the local Brightwood College. “We are monitoring the information and we will move quickly on any situation that would negatively impact our students.”
None of the schools’ websites had information informing students about the ruling or the possibility that they could lose access to financial aid.
“I think it’s too early in the game,” Worthington said. “It will take a while to unfold.”