Lawmakers Question Education Department and Accreditor About Fake Universities Used to Entrap Foreign-National Students
United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee; House Education and Labor Committee Vice Chair Andy Levin (D-Mich.); and House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment Chair Susan Davis (D-Calif.) sent letters to the Department of Education and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) regarding their respective roles in the accreditation of the University of Farmington in Michigan, a fake university set up by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to entrap foreign students. Beginning in January 2019, more than 250 students who entered the U.S. with legal student visas discovered that their supposed university offered no classes, had no instructors, and met none of the promises made in its marketing materials. These students now face deportation and a lifetime ban on entering the country.
Numerous reports and recently released court documents revealed that DHS created multiple fake universities accredited by ACCSC as part of an entrapment operation targeting foreign students. ACCSC played a key role in the deception by publicly listing the fake universities as accredited, which led at least some potential students to believe that they were enrolling in a real university.
"These actions undermine ACCSC's credibility as an accreditor and the legitimacy of the U.S. higher education system as a whole," wrote the lawmakers in their letter to ACCSC. "It is deeply misleading, unfair, and irresponsible to falsify accreditation information that students can and should use to evaluate their educational options before uprooting their lives and making significant financial investments in their education."
In addition to the arrests made at University of Farmington, recently released emails reveal that senior officials at the Education Department and the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC) engaged in discussions regarding the status of a separate troubled accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), and DHS's Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) program. The Education Department went on to restore recognition of ACICS as a federally recognized accreditor, raising concerns about DPC's and DHS's role in that controversial decision.
"As these anti-immigrant activities were ongoing, senior officials at ED were having discussions with the White House Domestic Policy Council regarding the status of ACICS and the SEVP program," wrote the lawmakers in their letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. "While ED went on to formally reinstate ACICS, these emails raise questions about the Domestic Policy Council's and DHS's role in that decision."
The lawmakers have requested responses to their letters no later than January 28, 2020.
As a long-time champion of students for over six years in the U.S. Senate, Senator Warren has been leading the fight to hold the Education Department and college accreditors accountable:
- Beginning with a Senate hearing in 2015, Senator Warren raised serious concerns about ED's troubled oversight of ACICS and its role as a gatekeeper responsible for approving colleges to accept federal student loans. The following year, Senator Warren released a report detailing the appalling record of failure at ACICS and followed with a letter demanding the Department hold ACICS accountable.
- Thanks in part to Senator Warren's efforts, in 2016, staff at the Department and the accreditation advisory committee recommended terminating ACICS's federal recognition.
- In May 2018, Senator Warren and Senate colleagues pressed Secretary DeVos for answers following a decision to restore recognition of ACICS. In October 2018, Senator Warren and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) called on Secretary DeVos to release documents used in the decision to reinstate ACICS as a federally-recognized accreditor.
- In November 2018, Secretary DeVos reversed the decision that had terminated ACIC's recognition. In response, Senator Warren and Congresswoman Bonamici led their colleagues in the Senate and House in calling on Secretary DeVos to rescind ACICS's reinstatement and released new evidence confirming reports that Secretary DeVos had ignored major red flags and cited false information as support for ACICS's reinstatement.
- Senator Warren, the late Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), then-Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Representative Bonamici also opened an investigation into the sudden collapse of Education Corporation of America (ECA), a for-profit college that received a stamp of approval from ACICS. The information that their investigation uncovered led the ED's Office of the Inspector General, in December 2018, to open an investigation into Secretary DeVos's decision to reinstate ACICS.
- When President Trump then abruptly dismissed the ED's acting inspector general, Senator Warren called him out. The Trump administration back-tracked hours later.
- Since then, Senator Warren has led her colleagues in calling on ECA regarding attempts to collect outstanding accounts receivable and other financial obligations from ECA's former students.