Court SMACKS DOWN college accreditation agency’s arbitrary, unreasonable practices

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A federal district court in Virginia has smacked down the Accreditation Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) for its arbitrary and unreasonable attempts to hound a tiny massage training school out of business.

As a result, the ACCSC now owes Professional Massage Training School (PMTC) in Springfield, Mo. exactly $429,016.62.

The verdict, issued on Friday by U.S. district judge Liam O’Grady, marks the first time a federal court has required the ACCSC to pay money to one of its member schools.

The 20-page district court opinion focuses primarily on a due process claim, the only claim (out of a handful) upon which PMTC prevailed.

The court found that the ACCSC was wrong to de-accredit the for-profit massage therapy school because it (1) focused on certain aspects of the school but ignored others, (2) relied on information that was both false and irrelevant and (3) failed to adhere to its own procedures and policies when it decided to revoke PMTC’s accreditation.

More broadly, the court also held that all accreditation agencies must provide at least a modicum of due process because they are “gatekeepers to Title IV financial aid funds administered by the Department of Education.”

Attorneys for PMTC and its owner, Juliet Mee, were obviously satisfied with the ruling.

“This decision is a victory for justice over arrogant, vindictive and lawless conduct by an entity — the ACCSC — which, in my opinion, does not deserve to be trusted, much less arrogated crediting power, by the Department of Education, directly or indirectly,” one of Mee’s attorneys, Lanny Davis, told The Daily Caller.

The ACCSC maintained that it had denied PMTC’s application for renewed accreditation because Mee managed the school poorly. Another charge was that the massage school had an unacceptable number of books on its campus.

The court found these reasons wanting.

The court found that Mee was an objectively competent manager and, in fact, that the ACCSC’s standards provide no practical guidance for what constitutes good management.

Various statements by the ACCSC personnel sent to evaluate the school showed that that they disliked Mee personally, the court said, and the accreditor’s standards amounted to little more than pathetically circular bureaucratic obstacles.

In short, “PMTC lost its accreditation because it was not adept enough at maintaining accreditation.”

“PMTC’s graduation rates are good,” the court said. “[I]ts job placement rates are excellent. The school enjoys high satisfaction ratings from its students.”

Concerning the number of books on campus — an issue the opinion dwells on considerably — the court noted that PMTC has an arrangement for students to use the library resources of nearby Missouri State University. For inexplicable reasons, accreditation officials never bothered to drop by that library. The court also documented its skepticism that “the library collection for massage therapists must be huge.”

As The Daily Caller reported in August, the ACCSC appears to apply its standards of accreditation in a wholly capricious manner. This is a problem because the ACCSC has gone after PMTC but ignored the grossly unethical and deceptive practices of larger, richer client schools and groups of schools. (RELATED: Who will accredit the accreditors?)

A long, absolutely scathing U.S. Senate report entitled “For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success” lays out the appalling behavior by several large for-profit education colleges accredited by the ACCSC as well as other, similar accrediting agencies.

In August, for example, a huge for-profit company called Career Education Corp. reached a $10 million settlement agreement with the New York attorney general over charges of gross deception.

There’s not nearly enough space here to relay all the terrible things the Senate report has to say about Career Education Corp, which operates 83 campuses in the United States including Le Cordon Bleu, Brown College, Sanford–Brown and a host of others.

Here’s an example: In a training document called “Telephone Tips,” recruiters were instructed to “NOT GIVE TOO MUCH INFORMATION” and “create a sense of urgency” during calls with prospective students. (The actual document contains the capitalization.)

Under the terms of the settlement, Career Education admitted that only 24 percent to 64 percent of graduates were able to find meaningful jobs. The company had touted an inflated rate of 55 percent to 80 percent.

Career Education’s overall student loan default rate is 21.6 percent within three years of leaving school.

The student-loan default rate for PMTC is 4.2 percent.

Overall, just over 20 percent of the students who attend a for-profit college default on student loans.

A very large number of ACCSC-accredited schools are for-profit chain institutions: Kaplan College, Le Cordon Bleu and the like. The agency also accredits a multitude of smaller trade schools covering everything from pet grooming to helicopter pilot training.

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Eric Owens