In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary John King, Swanson and attorneys general from 11 other states say the
Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or ACICS, is unfit to oversee higher education institutions and
that the government should revoke its accreditor status that is up for renewal.
"ACICS' accreditation failures are both systemic and extreme," the letter says. "Its decisions to accredit low-quality
for-profit schools have ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable students whom it was charged to protect."
The move comes as the for-profit higher education industry is under intense scrutiny nationwide, including here in
Minnesota. In a 2014 lawsuit that went to trial last week, Swanson alleges two ACICS accredited schools, Globe University
and the Minnesota School of Business, inflated the value of the degrees they offered to students.
School leaders and attorneys for the two Minnesota colleges have denied those allegations and were unavailable Monday to
discuss their institutions' accreditor. ACICS representatives did not return a request for comment.
Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, or APSCU, called the
letter politically motivated and said problems at public and nonprofit colleges and universities have not drawn the same
attention from state attorneys general. APSCU is a for-profit education advocate.
"As an organization, APSCU has never asked an accreditor to make a political decision regarding an institution of higher
education's accreditation," Gunderson said in a statement. "We won't. And neither should politically motivated Democrat
Accrediting agencies are responsible for ensuring that colleges and universities offer quality educational programs and
degrees. Most public and nonprofit institutions are regionally accredited and most for-profit schools are nationally
The letter calling for ACICS to lose its oversight powers said that "even in the crowded field of accrediting failures"
the organization stood out. The schools accredited by ACICS have low graduation rates, high student loan defaults and have
been sued or investigated by many states for compliance problems, the letter said.
The attorneys general also question whether ACICS has a conflict of interest in allowing representatives of the schools
they accredit to serve on the organization's boards and committees. Jeanne Herrmann, chief operating officer of Globe
University and the Minnesota School of Business, served as chair of the ACICS board of commissioners in 2015.
Critics of for-profit colleges argue many of the schools' degree programs are more expensive but less valuable than
degrees from their public and nonprofit counterparts. For-profit schools nationwide have been investigated and faced
lawsuits for providing inaccurate information to students about course credit transferability and job-placement rates.
In the civil case against Globe and the Minnesota School of Business, Swanson alleges the schools purposely lied to
students, telling them the schools' law enforcement programs would qualify them for careers as police and probation
Attorneys for the two schools denied the allegations and said any misinformation prospective students might have
received came from a handful of rogue employees who were not following school policies. The schools' representatives say
most students are happy with the training they received.
Globe and Minnesota School of Business are among 21 campuses in Minnesota that are accredited by ACICS. The organization
also oversees ITT Technical Institute and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, according to the organization's website.
ACICS was also the accreditor for the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges chain. Those schools were purchased last year by the
Zenith Education Group, a nonprofit with ties to Oakdale-based Education Credit Management Corp., or ECMC, a student loan
Corinthian went up for sale after the U.S. Department of Education alleged the schools made false claims similar to
those Globe and the Minnesota School of Business is accused of making. Corinthian agreed to the sale after the school's 56
campuses nationwide had their access to federal student loans suspended, putting the colleges in financial jeopardy.
A 2014 report from the U.S. Senate found for-profit schools are heavily dependent on federal student loans with 15
publicly traded education companies receiving 85 percent of their revenues from federal aid in 2009. Another 13 percent of
those firms' revenues came from state aid dollars, the report found.
If ACICS' accrediting status is revoked when it comes up for review in June, the more than 900 schools it oversees could lose access to federal student loans.