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Where Are the ACICS Accredited Institutions?

By Tom Allison

Accreditors play a significant role in authorizing colleges to operate, and the schools they approve gain access to hundreds of billions of dollars in federal financial aid every year. Many schools rely on government funding for up to 90 percent of their total revenue. So it is a big deal that the Department of Education has taken away the accrediting power of Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), a move that significantly helps protect students from predatory institutions. After all, ACICS accredited seventeen institutions that were under federal or state investigation, allowing them to receive $5.7 billion in federal aid in the last three years.

Researchers and advocates have focused a lot of attention on the aggregated outcomes of colleges ACICS accredits, and that’s a great way to compare ACICS to other accreditors (see the great work from Center for American Progress here and Pro Publica here). The results have been staggering: students at colleges accredited by ACICS graduate at the lowest rates, take on more debt, and have the most difficulty repaying their loans.

To better understand the outcomes of the 160,000 students who attend these schools we dove deeper into the actual institutions ACICS accredits and where they’re distributed across the country. This map links all ACICS  accredited institutions with outcomes measures from the College Scorecard, showing how different schools stack up. We were pretty surprised how spread out they were (38 states total). California led the pack with thirty-six campuses, Florida and Pennsylvania each had twenty, and ten are in Texas.


Here are some of the worst performing schools, by the performance metrics tracked in the College Scorecard.

Highest default rates:

Institution State Default Rate
Tucson College AZ 35%
Omega Institute NJ 33%
Kaplan Career Institute-Pittsburgh PA 31%
West Tennessee Business College TN 30%
Cheryl Fells School of Business NY 29%

Defaulting on student loans can wreck your credit. It is the worst outcome for a student borrower, and about a third of these schools’ students end up in this situation.

It’s true that for-profit institutions enroll more low-income students, who end up taking on more debt, but certain institutions’ students take on truly extreme levels of debt. The median debt for students at Stenotype Institute of Jacksonville is over $58,000, for instance. In fact, Florida hosts three of the five most indebted institutions accredited by ACICS.

Highest Median Debt:

Institution State Median Debt
Stenotype Institute of Jacksonville Inc-Jacksonville FL $53,832
Digital Media Arts College FL $43,476
NewSchool of Architecture and Design CA $43,417
International Academy of Design and Technology-Chicago IL $42,103
Jones College-Jacksonville FL $38,291

Loan repayment rate isn’t a perfect outcomes measure (none of them are). In fact, there are several different ways to calculate repayment rates. We use the Department of Education’s definition in the College Scorecard, which counts the percentage of borrowers who are actively paying at least $1 off the principle of their student loans. This can leave out students in income-driven repayment plans who might be paying the interest on their loans, but not enough to go towards the principal. However, loan repayment rate is in some ways the strongest measure of the return on investment a college provides a student, because it captures both sides of the value equation – money put in to finance the education and the ability to repay once in the workforce.

Data jargon aside, it should be concerning to students, parents, and taxpayers that less than a quarter of a college’s students are able to pay a $1 off their student loans three years after leaving the school.

Lowest Repayment Rates:

Institution State Repayment Rate
Camelot College LA 12%
Gallipolis Career College OH 16%
TESST College of Technology-Baltimore MD 17%
Daymar College-Chillicothe OH 21%
Cheryl Fells School of Business NY 21%

Of course income is a major factor in students’ ability to repay their loans, and it’s somewhat expected that a college’s graduates would go on to earn higher incomes than a typical high school graduate. So here are the schools with the lowest percentages of graduates able to earn more than that high school annual income ($25,000 per year):

Institution State % Earning Above High School Graduate
Camelot College LA 11%
Gallipolis Career College OH 12%
Forrest College SC 19%
Laurel Technical Institute PA 21%
West Virginia Junior College-Charleston WV 22%

Considering most students pursue higher education for better career opportunities, the fact that only one in five of these colleges’ students are able to improve their prospects is unacceptable.

While many of these schools are clearly failing their students, other schools don’t look too shabby by these limited measures. Premiere Career College in Los Angeles, for instance, graduates 83 percent of its students, with 73 percent able to repay their loans, and only 2 percent defaulting. Fortunately, these institutions can find a new accreditor, and the Department should ensure a smooth process for these and other high performing institutions to do so.

Author’s Note: Institutions with data missing in the College Scorecard were removed from the rankings. Puerto Rico institutions were also excluded from the rankings, but included in the map. Some institutions marked as accredited by ACICS in the College Scorecard data are no longer accredited by them, while other institutions have closed. I made every effort  to expunge these institutions as well. Big thanks to Ben Miller for pointing out those anomalies and sending over updated data.