Executive Directors Blog

August 2018

As fall approaches and another traditional academic year begins (meaningful for some members and meaningless for others!), our attention also turns to the ACCET Annual Conference scheduled for the beautiful Coeur d’Alene, Idaho resort from November 7-9, 2018 with pre-conference workshops scheduled for the two days prior. In recent years, we have been able to identify unique settings for a group our size (e.g. Hershey, PA and Pueblo, NM) and Coeur d’Alene will add to that list. A short ride from the airport in Spokane, Washington, you will find a resort and town that should be perfect and I look forward to greeting you there. One civic note: most of you will be in Idaho or en route on November 6, the date of our national mid-term elections. So, in the spirit of our democracy, I urge you to make early voting or absentee ballot arrangements, as appropriate.

The Commission has just completed a most productive meeting here in Washington, D.C. and we welcomed a guest observer from US ED as part of our re-recognition process.  Approximately 80 agenda items were addressed with Commissioners working diligently to give each item due consideration.  I thank them for their dedication and expertise. I would also like to thank the ACCET staff for the enormous preparation and post-meeting follow-up that is performed each time we gather. A fruitful one-half day Strategic Priorities session was also held and we are further developing our list of initiatives that will shortly be shared with the membership.  Additionally, the Nominating Committee had a series of meetings and the slate for new Institutional Commissioners will be announced to primary contacts sixty days prior to the Idaho Conference.

We had hoped to have had a decision regarding the future of ACICS just prior to the last Commission meeting, but US ED postponed a decision until September 4, 2018.  The ACICS issue has significant impact on ACCET operations since several institutions are maintaining dual accreditation until the future of ACICS is more defined.  Like many individuals in the for-profit and accreditation communities, we are eager to know future directions for ACICS and its member schools.

Best wishes to all and I thank you for your continued support of ACCET. I look forward to seeing many of you in Coeur d’Alene!

May 2018

The travel cycle leading up to the April 2018 Commission meeting was the most voluminous ever.  It included large teams, weather related travel delays, complicated team reports plus exhausted volunteers and ACCET staff.  Somehow, we weathered the storm and all was in place by the time the Commission gathered.  I would especially like to thank the membership for the extraordinary effort made to provide qualified volunteers to visit our numerous initial accreditation sites.  It was an exceptional team effort and exemplified ACCET’s partnership with its members.

Once gathered, the Commission faced a huge agenda.  Many Commissioners came in early to read files and attend longer than usual Financial Review Board and Completion and Placement Committee meetings.  We enlisted the assistance of several former Commissioners to serve in a pro tempore capacity; extended the Commission schedule by a day; scheduled some evening meetings; and staff organized several pre-meeting preparation documents to facilitate numerous tasks.  The Commission reached agreement on several extremely difficult accreditation decisions after hours of discussion, research and deliberations.  Everyone had tasks to perform at capacity and they did so with dedication and conscientiousness.  I thank our Commissioners and staff for an extraordinary effort.

Just days prior to the Commission meeting, Federal Judge Reggie B. Walton remanded the ACICS recognition issue back to the Secretary of Education citing the Department’s failure to review 36,000 pages of documents originally requested as part of the ACICS re-recognition process.  As a result Secretary DeVos (at least temporarily) reinstated ACICS and the clock reverted back to December 2016.  As of today, we await further clarity and decisions by the Secretary that are expected this summer.  Her initial action, however, meant that institutions who had maintained their ACICS membership while seeking accreditation from another agency, were protected from having their Title IV funds impacted if affiliation with a new agency was not completed by June 12, 2018.  This was the case for many institutions seeking ACCET accreditation but other schools who, for various legitimate reasons, decided to cease their affiliation with ACICS, are still subject to the June 12 deadline.  We have at least three such institutions in this category and will, therefore, hold a special Commission meeting (via remote means) in early June to, once again, consider their credentials before the June 12 deadline.  In some cases there are serious completion and placement challenges that some schools may not be able to successfully improve in such a short period of time.  ACCET continues to try to influence governmental decision makers that these institutions, who have done everything properly, should not be penalized but this has been a most challenging process.  We will keep you posted on developments as they occur.

I also call your attention elsewhere on the website announcing that we are seeking nominations to fill two institutional Commissioner openings  and encourage you to nominate colleagues or yourself for these hard-working positions.  Both retiring Commissioners have extensive Intensive English Program experience so nominees with similar experience will be especially welcome but the field is wide open to consider nominees with all relevant backgrounds.  Thank you for your consideration.

Best wishes for a busy, productive and enjoyable summer.  Your continued support of ACCET is deeply appreciated.

February 2018

It is an unusually busy travel season as ACCET peer review volunteers and ACCET staff traverse the country visiting schools up for initial accreditation, reaccreditation and substantive change approvals.  Many of the teams are larger than normal for some initial applicant sites while the winter weather and illnesses have all contributed to a very hectic scene.  Nevertheless, we are right on schedule.  I would especially like to thank the volunteer team evaluators who are giving their time to this effort and their supervisors who are coping back home when some key personnel are serving as ACCET peer reviewers.

The April Commission meeting also promises to be packed and we have actually extended the number of meeting days as well as enlisting the aid of some former Commissioners to serve on a pro tempore basis.  Many initial applicants are experiencing non-compliance issues with placement and, of course, this is an area where time is often necessary to correct.  For this reason, the proposal for an 18 month extension of the deadline for the accreditation of former ACICS schools is of crucial importance.  Congressional action is necessary to create this extension and the proposal is moving through as part of a Senate appropriations bill.  We are monitoring it closely and are encouraged to date but the unpredictability of the current legislative process is reason for concern.  By obtaining this extension, ACCET and the other national accreditors are merely trying to do their jobs in a conscientious and complete manner.  Most of you are aware that the majority of initial applicants for ACCET accreditation are deferred at least (if not more than) one cycle before becoming completely compliant, so what we’re experiencing here is not all that unusual.  What is unusual is a June 12, 2018 deadline for accreditation that has been imposed on former ACICS schools.

Modest enrollment rebounds among ACCET career colleges counter balanced by continued retraction at Intensive English Program schools still appears to be the theme nationwide.  We will keep you posted if we see any shifts in these trends. 

Spring is around the corner!  Hang in there!

December 2017

By all accounts, the ACCET San Antonio Annual Conference was a smashing success! A great location was augmented by outstanding breakout programs and well received plenary sessions.  When the smoke cleared, we actually surpassed our all-time attendance record by two registrants and set a revenue record as well.  Sandy Lockwood, Darlene Foret plus numerous ACCET staff are congratulated on an outstanding event that featured quality learning and great camaraderie.  So, mark your calendars now for November 7-9, 2018 in beautiful Coeur d’Alene, Idaho!

The ACCET Commission just concluded its December deliberations with an extensive and challenging agenda.  Special thanks to Karen Kershenstein, Liz Schaefer, Brenda Robati and David Vice who pitched in as pro-tem Commissioners to help us handle a workload that included our usual array of reaccreditations and substantive changes but was buttressed by the initial applicants from schools formerly affiliated with ACICS, the main campuses for which were all visited in this most recent cycle.  During this upcoming cycle, the affiliated branch campuses will be visited, a total over two cycles of 104 locations.

ACCET is not the only busy place juggling many tasks.  You’ll recall that every five years, accrediting agencies are re-recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (US ED) through a process very similar to our reaccreditation of ACCET member institutions.  This includes an appearance before NACIQI – the National Advisory Council for Institutional Quality and Integrity – which was scheduled for ACCET in May 2018.  Recently, we have been informed that due to retirements in the Accreditation Group at US ED and the shifting of workloads, our appearance and re-recognition will be delayed until December 2018. 

Finally, look for the second edition of the ACCET Newsletter to be shortly attached to our website!  It is part of our ongoing attempt to more comprehensively communicate with you on key issues, events, and happenings.  The first edition was well received and we have incorporated a number of your suggestions in this next edition.          

So, warm wishes to all of you during this Holiday Season and best wishes for an outstanding 2018.  Thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm.

August 2017

As the summer slips away, our focus changes towards fall events.  Despite the fact that virtually all of our member institutions function year-round, there’s something embedded in our psyche that makes the start of classes in fall as a special event.  Here’s hoping that’s the case in both your professional and personal lives.

Excitement is building about the Annual ACCET Conference scheduled from November 6-8 at the Hyatt Regency on the San Antonio Riverwalk. Participant registration is building, the Exhibit Hall is almost sold out, and the program is falling in place.  This is the major opportunity for our ACCET community to gather and I know you’ll be making every effort to join us.

Here in the ACCET office, we have recently welcomed Maia Williams as a new Accreditation Coordinator and Dr. Mary Clare DiGiacomo as a Senior Accreditation Coordinator.  Maia is recent graduate of the Higher Education Administration Masters Program at the University of Pennsylvania while Mary Clare has most recently served as the Dean of General Education and Online Learning at Athens Technical College in Georgia.  They have both hit the ground running and after some additional training and observation early in this cycle, they will be doing visits later this fall.  Additionally, Roxanne Wittkamp has agreed to serve as a part-time Commission Representative.  Most recently, Roxanne served as the Academic Dean at Chicago ORT. We are pleased to have these three professionals join our team.

The ACCET Commission just concluded its August deliberations and it was a most productive week.  Recent circumstances forced two Commissioners, Patricia Stein and Nadine Baladi, to step down from their posts requiring the Commission to make appointments to complete their terms.  Accordingly, we welcomed Sophia Perkovich, Director of Cortiva Institute in Arizona and Shenaz Shafee, Academic Director of LADO in Washington DC to fill these slots.  They made significant contributions right away and have nicely blended into the Commission ranks.    In addition to accreditation decisions, the Commission made a number refinements to our completion and placement, complaints and conflict of interest/recusal policies.  The dedication of our Commissioners and the time that they devote to their tasks are exemplary. 

These next two visit cycles will be extremely eventful.  All current members scheduled for visits will receive them as planned while we also endeavor to visit for initial accreditation, the former ACICS institutions whose applications we have accepted.  This amounts to 36 main campuses and an additional 68 affiliated branch/auxiliary campuses.  We have laid out a game plan to accomplish this task and look forward to this undertaking. Simultaneously, we are preparing for ACCET’s re-recognition consideration this June by the U.S. Department of Education.  As you might imagine, we are re-defining the word “busy”!

Finally, look for the first edition of the ACCET Newsletter to be shortly attached to our website!  It is part of our ongoing attempt to more comprehensively communicate with you on key issues, events, and happenings.  Sincere thanks to all the staff who worked on this edition with special recognition to Carol Crehan, Christina D’Antoni and Jim Doran.

So, I look forward to greeting many of you in San Antonio and wish you all well as we continue our collaboration and partnership.  Thank you for all the support you have shown to ACCET, its members, staff and Commissioners.

May 2017

Welcome to spring as many schools shift to summer programs and formats.  We had an excellent April Commission meeting that included some long-range focusing and updating regarding current events here in Washington and worldwide.  We continue to see many challenges for our intensive English program schools and have experienced a modest decline in the number of branch campuses some of the bigger organizations are carrying.  Meanwhile, smaller IEPs are doing their very best to keep their heads above water.

The expected positive impact (and forecasted de-regulation) from the new administration as it relates to for-profit career colleges has not yet been realized.  The Department of Education has been slow to re-organize and numerous holdover appointees and career civil servants appear to still be marching to the same beat established during the last eight years.  Being realistic, a little over one-hundred days of a new administration does not provide enough time for “trickle down” to the agencies, but early signs for positive change have been minimal to date.

Interest in ACCET accreditation from ACICS schools seeking a new home has been significant.  We have moved very methodically on these applications and our scrutiny has been extensive.  Despite unrealistic timelines that are in government statute but, as of now, need to be followed, the Commission and staff are seeing that all steps expected of initial applicants are taken.  A number of these applying institutions are complex in size, offerings and history, hence, a pace that some might define as tedious, is necessary.  I will keep you posted on developments. Meanwhile, the court case relating to ACICS is approaching and decisions stemming from that adjudication could, once again, change the landscape of this issue.

Here is the ACCET office, we have welcomed Cristina Rodarte back to the fulltime staff after a two-year hiatus and we are fortunate to re-gain both her expertise and enthusiasm. Simin Xi’s title has been changed to Database Coordinator to better reflect her current duties and Christina D’Antoni’s title has been altered to that of Administrative Assistant and Events Coordinator to better portray her current activities. Congratulations to all!

The annual ACCET Conference is shaping up nicely and San Antonio will be a terrific site for our activities in early November.  This is an important professional development opportunity for our members, not to mention the informal learning, networking and interaction with exhibitors that occurs at our conference.  Although budgets are tight this year for many, please make every effort to be with us for this re-energizing opportunity. 

As always, best wishes to all, thank you for your support and here’s to your success!

February 2017

A belated welcome to 2017 and Greetings from Washington, DC.  Nowadays, it is almost impossible to keep track of the new daily political developments and the implications they may have for our ACCET membership.  Suffice to say at this point, there are far more questions than answers.  Education Secretary DeVos is still finding her sea legs and identifying key staff.  There is indication that some de-regulation is in the works but this is still very undefined.  In fact, my attendance at last week’s NACIQI meeting as an observer would currently point to no change in attitude or approach to the for-profit institutional accreditors.  Likewise, the court proceedings related to the ACICS dissolution decision by the Department of Education have not yielded positive signs.  For our Intensive English Program members, the initial travel ban actions by the new administration have not helped change the perception for students from many countries that the United States is no longer a welcoming place for them to study.  So, stayed tuned, as they say, and we will see what the future brings.

Meanwhile, at the ACCET office, staff are coming off the road and preparations are in gear for the April 2017 Commission meeting.  As usual, we will have a full agenda and a hectic five days of deliberations.  The approval of initial applications from former ACICS schools has been a challenge as we review their financial and other records while holding them to the ACCET standards.  By the way, we welcomed Cristina Rodarte back to the fulltime ACCET staff a couple of weeks ago and we are fortunate to have her expertise and experience.  Cristina will be working remotely from California but has already assumed a full portfolio of ACCET responsibilities.  The office in Washington, DC can facilitate any contact you might require of her. 

Preliminary plans are shaping up nicely for our next ACCET Annual Conference scheduled for November 6-8, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency in San Antonio, Texas.  Sandy Lockwood and her team, as well as ACCET Commissioners and Staff are eager to see that another high quality professional education opportunity is available to our membership.  So, please block out those dates now and plan to be with us in November.

As always, I am appreciative of your support and engagement.  Warm regards to all.

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.