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Former Executive Directors Blog

December 2016

As this exciting, tumultuous 2016 year comes to a close, the ACCET staff and Commission join me in wishing you and your institutions a most happy holiday season and continued success in 2017.  ACCET emerges from 2016 with a solid and loyal membership base coupled with a dedicated staff and a legion of talented volunteers.

Those of you who were able to join us in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico for the ACCET Annual Conference especially appreciate what a smashing success the event was augmented by a sensational setting.  Sincere thanks to conference coordinator Sandy Lockwood who was ably assisted by Darlene Foret and a staff conference committee led by Linsay Oakden.  The evaluations of all aspects of the conference program were off the charts and we are already planning the 2017 conference in San Antonio, Texas in early November.

As you might imagine, Washington, DC is still gasping for air as the result of the November elections.  The macro implications for our country are certainly undefined at this time, but on a micro level as it relates to ACCET and its membership, there are some emerging signs that we must closely monitor. Over one-third of our membership is related to Intensive English Programs and there is concern that if a general anti-globalism stance emerges combined with previously stated critical attitudes expressed towards certain countries and religions that the impact on IEP enrollment could be substantial.  In 2015-16 alone, IEPs in the United States have already seen a 14.5% decrease from the previous year according to statistics recently published by “Open Doors.”  We have learned from our network of international language accreditors that there are many quality options for intensive English instruction in a number of attractive countries who will be vying for students who do not feel comfortable or welcome in the United States. Accordingly, closures of branch and main IEP campuses could expand during 2017 and there is reason for concern.

On the other hand, the election results may have a positive effect for our career college membership with the possibility of reduced overall regulations and the possible demise of existing onerous programs like Gainful Employment and the new loan repayment rules.  For accreditors, the NACIQI board membership will be re-vamped and it is hoped that the re-recognition process will be de-politicized and restored to the level playing field that was a previous hallmark. It is important, however, to appreciate that the possible loosening of federal regulations, which will be welcomed, will not negate the responsibility of ACCET and its members to see that our standards are met and maintained, so that our institutions remain strong and viable in any environment.

In addition to the Annual Conference, we have also just completed, in early December, a week of deliberations by the ACCET Commission here in Washington, DC where numerous issues pertaining to the future of our agency were explored.  As a non-governmental agency that depends on its membership entirely for its financial support, ACCET has always been and always will be sensitive to its role as a conscientious steward of resources.  We strive not to increase fees annually and, in fact, have not changed the sustaining fees in eight years while leaving the structure for other fees without adjustment for three years. In these three years, however, we have seen dramatically escalating travel costs and a growth of over 300 campus locations that need to be served daily by ACCET staff, as well as coverage being provided by staff with peer volunteers on team visits.  In consideration of these variables and others, the Executive Committee of the ACCET Commission recently approved across the board fee upgrades effective January 1, 2017.  These changes are moderate in range with the sustaining fees having been raised at a 1% per year rate since the last adjustment in 2008.  The application processing and team visit fees reflect changes of less than 3% per year since the last adjustment.  In comparison to our brother national accreditors, ACCET remains in the lower one-half of comparable fees charged to members.  Our staffing pattern remains the most lean when compared to the number of locations served. The consistent feedback we receive from our members speaks to the availability, professionalism and friendliness of ACCET staff who consistently provide timely and effective service.  These adjustment in fees will contribute to maintaining this commitment and keep the overall operation of our organization in good stead.  I appreciate your understanding and thank you for your continued support. 

September 2016 Updates

Greetings to all of you. I realize that this is a very busy season with new classes and new cohorts all getting underway. I wish you success in these endeavors with hopes that, despite present challenges, you are seeing positive results and continue to be inspired by our students and the importance of our work.

Our annual conference in Pueblo Santa Ana, New Mexico is rapidly approaching and registrations have been steady. I realize that some member schools have financial priorities that may be more pressing but attendance at the annual conference is an excellent way to keep current, make contacts, and re-charge your batteries. Accordingly, please make every effort to attend and benefit from a very strong program and a myriad of professional and personal opportunities.

The ACCET Commission met during the first week of August with a very heavy agenda. Elsewhere on the website you can find a summary of actions. We welcomed five new members and re-accredited twenty institutions. There were, however, five denials pending appeal of either initial accreditation (4) or reaccreditation (1) – an unusually high number. We have finished out the year in between conferences with a modest net gain of total main campuses. Considering the turbulence that both the for-profit and IEP sectors are experiencing, this is a considerable achievement on the part of our membership and remarkable stability for our agency. Congratulations to all involved.

We follow with concern the developments this past week with the closure of ITT Tech and the impact it has had on more than 40,000 students and 8,000 employees. A minimal number of ACCET members have curricula and degree levels that match those of ITT Tech but I am aware and applaud the efforts of those that do to accommodate former ITT students. Some have raised transfer of credit flexibility issues of which we are generally supportive but a quick call here to the ACCET office is in order if you anticipate a temporary loosening of your policy to deal with this emergency.

The ACICS issue remains very live and ACCET is in serious conversation with a good number of ACICS members who are considering a switch of their accreditation. It is still too early to determine the actual number of institutions that will follow through. Most of you are aware that retired ACCET Executive Director Roger Williams is serving as the Interim President of ACICS during these daunting times for the agency. Roger’s expertise and leadership have had a stabilizing effect on ACICS in just a short period of time and we wish him and the agency well.

The end of the conference will mark a change in ACCET Commission leadership as Peggy Tiderman will assume the Chair position bringing many years of ACCET and industry experience to the post. We will honor current Chair Res Helfer during the conference for his strong leadership and commitment to our organization. I look forward to seeing many of you in Pueblo Santa Ana and thank you for continued support.

July 2016 Updates

Here in Washington, we are in the dead heat of summer and the ACCET staff is in high gear.  We have all just gotten off the road after completing our team visits in preparation for the August 2016 Commission meeting, for which we are busily preparing.  A reminder to all that there is still time to nominate a colleague (or yourself) for the Institutional Commission Member opening (see above) and we encourage you to do so. 

By now, most of you are aware that the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) did not recommend continued recognition for our fellow national institutional accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).  This recommendation has been forwarded to a senior U.S. Department of Education (US ED) official for a decision that can then be appealed to the Secretary of Education.  ACICS could also elect to bring suit in U.S. Federal Court once internal appeals at US ED are exhausted. General consensus, however, is that the long term outlook for ACICS is bleak. Once all appeals and any court action are final, ACICS members will have 18 months to find a new accreditor without losing Title IV eligibility but numerous ACICS institutions are already exploring alternatives.  This pending decision impacts more than 250 ACICS accredited main campuses with 800 locations affecting as many as 800,000 students. The NACIQI hearing for ACICS lasted ten hours and involved approximately twenty third-party speakers. The overall atmosphere was tense and adversarial.  I left the hearing troubled and concerned about the future of higher education accreditation.

The task ahead facing the accreditation community is massive.  Although ACCET’s scope limiting our accreditation to institutions offering diplomas/certificates and vocational associate degrees results in modest overlap with ACICS institutions, we are still receiving a significant number of inquiries. Well prior to this ACICS development, the ACCET Commission voted to begin the process with US ED and NACIQI to expand our accreditation scope to include institutions offering certain bachelor’s degrees.  This decision was in response to members who are planning in the future to offer bachelor’s degrees and did not want to leave ACCET if they decided to do so.  Whether the scope expansion process will culminate early enough to assist additional ACICS members seeking a new home remains to be seen.

The ACCET Commission and staff, however, want to stress three points as we move ahead.  First, any new potential ACCET members seeking to switch from other accrediting agencies will be subject to the same rigorous review and scrutiny that all ACCET initial applicants must meet.  Next, our standards, policies and procedures will not be compromised as we move forward.  Finally, our primary commitment will be to our current membership with no interruption of quality and responsive service.

I will continue to update you on these developments via this blog and at our annual conference in New Mexico this October 31 through November 2, 2016 – an event you will not want to miss!  Best wishes to all for a productive summer and thank you for your continued support.

Summer 2016 Updates

This is my third website blog entry so far this year and I appreciate your positive feedback to date.  This time, we have decided to also send this missive via email to each institution’s primary contact official listed on your AMS page.

We had a very busy and highly successful April Commission meeting during which we welcomed five new members and re-accredited twenty-two members.  In all, eighty-two members were on the agenda for a variety of actions and deliberations.  Recently, I have been often asked how ACCET is doing membership-wise in light of turmoil in both the career college and IEP/ESOL realms. This is a more compelling question nowadays especially in light of several sister national accrediting agencies reporting some significant attrition.  I reported at the October 2015 that we finished the previous year with a net increase of nineteen main campuses.  Since then, we have more or less broken even, losing six main campuses and gaining seven new ones with an even mix of new career colleges, IEP/ESOLs and avocational members.  In this day and age, that record is a strong one and is indicative of our members’ commitment and adherence to ACCET standards.  I sincerely thank you for your extra efforts.

During the April meeting, the Commission also held a one-half day retreat to account for the strategic priorities accomplished to date and to propose new initiatives.  Included as new activities are ways to increase transparency by ACCET and ACCET members; further expansion of communications efforts with our members; consideration of  expansion of ACCET’s scope of accreditation to possibly include new programs that we do not currently accredit and the possibility of becoming a programmatic accreditor in addition to our present status as an institutional accreditor; further strengthening  ACCET’s professional development and training initiatives; and the exploration of a government relations program.  Periodically, I will update you on our progress.

We continue to monitor and respond, when necessary, to issues regarding accreditors that have been raised by the Department of Education, Congress and the press. Watch for this focus to expand in late June when four of our fellow national accrediting agencies will be up for re-recognition by NACIQI – the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. The re-recognition process is rigorous and probing – not unlike the reaccreditation process our members experience every three or five years.  It also includes a public hearing as part of the process and ultimately NACIQI makes a recommendation to the U.S. Secretary of Education regarding re-recognition.  The three-day public meeting in suburban Washington, DC will be closely watched by the accreditation community and many other interested parties.  I will be sure to update you in this space upon conclusion of the deliberations.  By the way, ACCET is up for re-recognition consideration in June 2018.

Here in the ACCET office, we welcomed Stephen Barkley, a new accreditation coordinator who joined the staff in late April.  Stephen brings a boatload of educational consulting and IEP/ESOL experience both stateside and abroad.  You will enjoy meeting and working with Stephen in the time ahead.  All ACCET accrediting and executive staff members have very extensive travel schedules this cycle but remain committed to a timely response of your inquiries.

Incidentally, we will have an opening for an Institutional Commissioner to take office for a renewable three year term beginning December 2016.  Be on the lookout for an official notice to be emailed to you this summer outlining the nomination and election process that culminates at the annual conference this late October in New Mexico.  So, please begin now to consider colleagues you might nominate.

So, here’s to a successful and enjoyable summer season. Best wishes for continued success and thank you for your continued commitment to ACCET.

Spring 2016 Updates

Thank you for your nice comments on the inaugural blog entry. As we begin March 2016, the ACCET staff is finishing up visits with team evaluators in preparation for the April Commission meeting. The weather has raised havoc on a number of occasions for some teams but with the support and flexibility of our member institutions scheduled for visits, we have been able to cover all of our bases. Like all of you, we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring!

The agenda for the April Commission meeting is a crowded one with a number of carryover items from December 2015 and consideration of those member institutions visited in the last two months. In addition, the Commission will take an afternoon to focus solely on our Strategic Priorities. In the two years since the priorities and action items were initially approved, there has been tremendous and rapid progress to the degree that we need to develop a new set of tasks to be accomplished and possibly add an additional strategic priority or two. (An updated copy of the Strategic Priorities Scorecard can be found on this website to give you a better idea of the accomplishments to date.) The Commission will continue to focus on assuring that ACCET will remain relevant and vibrant in this rapidly changing environment. It is no secret that increased government regulations and negative publicity about career colleges has impacted our vocational schools while the strong dollar and less financial support from some key overseas governments have negatively affected our language schools. The Commission will keep these realities in mind as it charts a course for ACCET and its members in the future.

It is hard not to be subsumed by Presidential politics during this election year but a reminder that local congressional races and elections for state legislatures and other positions often impact our member institutions to a very great degree. It is important to assess where all the candidates, not just the incumbents, stand on key issues related to for-profit education. Inviting candidates to visit your schools, holding town meetings and candidate forums on your campuses and educating your communities on key issues are vitally important for future viability.

We are off to a good start here in 2016 and look forward to our continued interaction with our members. Thank you for your continued support and cooperation. My best wishes to all.

Greetings for the New Year!

Greetings to all with wishes for a productive and peaceful 2016.   We begin the year here at ACCET by launching this Executive Director’s update on our website as an additional manner to communicate with our members.

The year 2015 was a banner year for ACCET.  As of the August 2015 Commission meeting, we welcomed 19  new member institutions while losing just a few despite these traumatic times that have impacted so many post-secondary organizations.  Our annual conference in Hershey was viewed by most as the “best ever” with great attendance, programs, interaction with ACCET staff and Commissioners, vendors and keynote speakers.  The opportunity to hear Milton Hershey School President Pete Gurt and to learn about the unparalleled act of philanthropy by Katherine and Milton Hershey over a decade ago was clearly a highlight.  The year also saw expanded accreditation workshop sites and an increase of Team Evaluator workshops.  Our ACCET standards were upgraded as part of an extensive review that we undertake every five years and we continued to accomplish activities outlined in our Strategic Priorities document to such a degree that the Commission will develop a new series of tasks at the upcoming April 2016 meeting.  James Doran, Carol Crehan, Simin Xi and Christina D’Antoni all joined the staff and have been great additions.  We face 2016 with confidence and vigor.

As approved by the Commission Executive Committee at its December 2015 meeting, the 2016 ACCET budget contains no increases in either sustaining fees or visit fees for our members.  This may not be possible in future years, but the staff believes we can make ends meet this coming year, especially since our members’ budgets are tighter than ever.  I am also pleased to announce that former ACCET staff member, Donna Hutchinson, will return to the staff fulltime and, among other duties, will lead the Program Approval process as the result of John Gregg’s retirement.  Donna brings great expertise and experience to this role that demands excellent and timely customer service.

Finally, on occasion, I will use this space as a “gentle pulpit” to challenge and encourage our membership.  My thoughts and concerns recently have centered around the safety and comfort of the thousands of students at ACCET schools who practice Islam.  The current environment demands extra efforts on our part to see that our Muslim students remain welcome participants in our organizations and that our extra outreach assures that they feel safe in both their academic and residential settings.  From conversations with some of you, I know that this outreach is already occurring but it, unfortunately, will mean an ongoing initiative to offset stereotypes perpetuated by some politicians and some media outlets.    I realize that I am largely “speaking to the choir” but as a former college president and dean of students, I know firsthand how fragile such relationships are in times of considerable stress and questioning.  Thank you for considering my comments.

I continue to take great pride in ACCET and in our membership who have set and kept high standards over the years. I thank you for your continued engagement and hope that 2016 is a positive and productive year for all of us.