DOE No Longer Recognizes ACICS as Accrediting Agency: Effects of Decision for Students at ACICS Accredited Schools

 

Introduction

Accredited by ACICSOn December 12, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced that it no longer recognizes the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency [link]. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a news release explaining how the DOE's decision would impact Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified schools and programs that have ACICS accreditation [link]. The DOE's decision applies in these cases because the SEVP “only recognizes a school's accreditation if its accrediting agency is recognized by the [DOE].”

When Accreditation is Required

The ICE explains that the SEVP does not require accreditation for all schools seeking SEVP certification. However, accreditation is required in two cases:

  1. For all English as Second Language (ESL) programs; and
  2. When seeking a 24-month STEM extension, F1 students must use a degree from an accredited U.S. educational institution as the basis of the STEM extension. The institution must be accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the DOE at the time the student filed his or her STEM OPT application.

Please see our full article to learn more about 24-month STEM OPT extensions [see article].

The ICE explains that all other schools and programs have the option to provide additional evidence “in lieu of accreditation.”

Timeline

The ICE explains that it will follow the DOE's timeline for schools and students affected by the decision to no longer recognize ACICS as an accreditor. The DOE provides schools accredited by ACICS 18 months to find a new DOE-approved accreditor. The DOE encourages affected schools to share information with students about their plans so that students may plan accordingly.

The ICE announced that “SEVP will not take immediate action on nonimmigrant students' Student and Exchange Visitor Information System records during the next 18 months.” This means that affected students will have 18 months to transfer to a new SEVP-certified school (if the current school does not plan to maintain its SEVP-certification) or to depart the United States.

Guidance for Schools

SEVP-certified ESL programs that are accredited by ACICS will be required to obtain accreditation by a different DOE-recognized accrediting agency in order to remain SEVP-certified. Upon receiving new accreditation, the program must update its Form I-17, Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student. Schools and ESL programs that do not obtain new accreditation will receive a notification to remove the ESL program from the school's Form I-17. It is important to note that even if an ESL program loses certification, the school at which the ESL program is hosted may continue to enroll nonimmigrant students as long as the school maintains its own SEVP certification.

Schools and programs that are accredited by ACICS and that do not have an ESL affiliation may consider whether they wish to remain accredited. Accreditation is not required for these programs. However, all schools that are accredited by ACICS must update their Forms I-17 “to ensure it accurately reflects the schools operating status.” The Form I-17 must be updated whether the ACICS-accredited school finds a new accreditor or decides to provide the SEVP with additional evidence in lieu of accreditation.

Guidance for Students

The students affected by the decision are as follows:

  1. Those participating in an ESL program accredited by ACICS; or
  2. Those attending an ACICS-accredited school who wish to participate in STEM OPT in the future.

The ICE advises that students who are described above should ask their designated school officials if the school intends to be accredited by another DOE-approved accrediting agency. It further notes that, in general, students should always ensure that their schools intend to maintain SEVP certification. If a school or program does not intend to maintain its SEVP-certification, students will have 18 months to transfer to another SEVP-certified school or to depart the United States.

Conclusion

A student attending a school affected by the DOE's decision should consult with his or her DSO immediately for guidance on whether the school or program intends to maintain its SEVP-certification. If the school or program does not intend to retain its SEVP certification, the student must make plans either to transfer to another SEVP-certified school or program or to depart the United States within the next 18 months. If the student plans to participate in STEM OPT in the future, he or she must ascertain whether the SEVP certified school in which he or she is currently enrolled intends to obtain accreditation from another DOE-approved accreditation agency. This is because the student must have a degree from an accredited institution to participate in STEM OPT.

Students who are unsure of the situation or all of their options may also want to consult with an experienced immigration attorney for further guidance. To learn more about student visas in general, please see the full category on our website [see category].