Home Associations & Accreditations ACICS Annual Conference Re-cap and Future Outlook
ACICS Annual Conference Re-cap and Future Outlook

ACICS Annual Conference Re-cap and Future Outlook


By Anthony S. Bieda, Executive in Charge, ACICS

I deliver this update during an exceptionally active time for the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. We hosted our Eighth Annual Conference in May at The Worthington Hotel in Ft. Worth, Texas. Hundreds of attendees came to develop skills and learn critical information that will help them meet the new expectations ACICS is ushering in this summer to our operations and our accreditation criteria.

Conference highlights

David Marshall
Dr. David Marshall, president of the International College of the Cayman Islands

Attendees also had the opportunity to hear inspirational success stories that they took back to their home campuses. For example, Dr. David Marshall, president of the International College of the Cayman Islands, confronted 28 citations from ACICS as part of the school’s effort to become re-accredited when he took the job in 2014. The school’s future looked bleak at the time, but two years later, 39 out of the 40 recent graduates had secured employment and the school rectified every deficiency ACICS evaluators identified. At the Conference Dr. Marshall described his school’s turnaround and the help ACICS provided to raise the school’s standards.

For a session on improving licensure exam pass rates, Dr. Jay Ober, Senior Vice President at Management Resources College offered valuable insight into improving student outcomes and developing sustainable solutions for healthcare program delivery and education.

MRC continuously serves as a model among ACICS-accredited schools for its consistent record of producing licensure exam pass rates that exceed ACICS’ standards. Over the past few years MRC has been a trusted alternative in the South Florida region for nursing students who have been displaced by the closure of their original institution of learning.

I would be remiss if I didn’t salute our Volunteers of the Year, who were honored with awards by our Council Chair, Dr. Larry Leak. Our Student Relations Evaluator of the Year went to Ms. Donna Reed. Donna has served on more than 50 accreditation evaluation teams over the past 24 years. Professionally, she has served in numerous roles within higher education, including Regional Executive Director, Academic Dean and Financial Aid Specialist.

Dr. Larry Leak and Wyman Dickey
Dr. Larry Leak and Wyman Dickey

Our team Evaluator Chair of the Year award was bestowed upon Wyman Dickey. Mr. Dickey began his work in postsecondary education in 1997 while working as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Florida. Mr. Dickey has served as Campus President of Fortis College in Orange Park, FL since 2007, but he devotes his personal time as Chair of Evaluation Site Teams, which he has held since 2013. Wyman believes strongly in the importance of a “two way dialogue” with member institutions when conducting evaluation visits to reinforce the importance of ACICS’ required self-assessment exercises and its broader peer review process.

Finally, our Evaluator of the Year proudly went to Dr. Darlene Minore. Dr. Minore is a lifelong educator, having served for over 20 years in education administration for Pre-K up to post-secondary schools. She has served in nearly every capacity on more than 80 evaluation team visits, including

Darlene Minore
Dr. Darlene Minore

program specialist, education specialist and as Chair. Our Commissioners and I are extremely proud of the accomplishments by these honorees and the time they have volunteered to ACICS.

Looking forward

The highlight of my experience at our Annual Conference is always the interaction I have with our member schools. As an accreditor of schools in 46 states and abroad, this is a chance for our Commissioners and me to engage in robust and straight forward dialogue with school administrators. This was most evident during the Town Hall session, held on the last day of the Conference, where attendees can pose questions to our 15-member Council.

It’s no secret that the entire private independent college sector has experienced a wave of criticism from outside observers based on a few high-profile school closures. As the body that’s committed to overseeing quality and ensuring an equitable return on investment for the students who make considerable sacrifices to attend our schools, the buck stops with ACICS. The Council and I listened closely to the concerns expressed by many of you at the Town Hall meeting and we provided informative responses. I summarized our recent efforts to rally employers who consistently hire from ACICS-accredited schools to convey their satiACICS Annual Conferencesfaction to the U.S. Department of Education that our students are well equipped to hit the ground running.

At the end of June ACICS will appear before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI). Our efforts to gain re-recognition for a new five-year term rest in the hands of the recommendation that this 18 member board will deliver to Education Secretary John King. Despite efforts by our opponents, I am optimistic that the lengthy and detailed responses we have already submitted to the Department this year will persuade the decision makers that ACICS deserves to be re-recognized.

I am confident the many supporters joining us on our hearing day will convey the message that career colleges have served a vital link to our country’s workforce for over a century. Destroying this pipeline
of talent based on emotion, instead of facts, would deliver a devastating blow to the large portion of the country where career colleges are the only higher education option.

Reforms to ACICS accreditation and operations adopted

To continue to improve the effectiveness of our oversight role, the Council has adopted a sweeping package of reforms to our accreditation model, our governance and our operations. As the new Executive in Charge of ACICS, I felt it was necessary to hit the “reset” button to ensure students are being protected and quality standards are being enforced to the highest degree possible. These directives are being issued not to single out any particular ACICS stakeholder group, but rather, to assure the U.S. Department of Education that we are a body that can be trusted – every day of the year – to protect the integrity of accreditation in higher education and the enormous responsibilities that are attached to every accrediting decision we make.

In that spirit we are implementing reforms to our operations and accreditation criteria that supplement the initial changes the Council adopted at our Conference. I have established the following immediately through an Executive Order and issued memos (http://www.acics.org/news/content.aspx?id=6675) to our community that detail the following changes:

  1. A temporary hiatus on accepting new applications for initial grants of accreditation.
  2. All ACICS evaluators will be subject to an Evaluator Development and Deployment Initiative in order to assure strong and effective peer review during all campus site visits and reviews. This entails a re-screening of each volunteer evaluator’s individual credentials. In addition, successful completion of an enhanced evaluator training regimen will be required, along with a recurring performance evaluation through an enhanced appraisal process.
  3. A comprehensive inventory of all existing ACICS colleges and schools enrolling high numbers of students with immigration visas of any kind, and an independent audit of their compliance with federal immigration requirements, at the expense of the institution.
  4. Formal adverse inquiries are authorized regarding every ACICS college or school that has been subject to Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) or ICE investigations for violation of federal immigration law.

I believe these aforementioned changes will complement the improvements put forth earlier this spring by the Council, which take effect on July 1. They are as follows:

  • ACICS expects any piece of data that a school submits to be 100 percent accurate and verifiable, with no exceptions. The Council will also have the authority to independently review any performance data it receives to ensure data integrity. Furthermore, a specific evaluator on each team site visit will have the role of verifying the school’s student achievement data for any errors or exaggerations.
  • Recruiting and admissions practices – Institutions must now provide a written process that details who its admissions and recruiting officers are and how they approach prospective students, to ensure the materials they use to recruit are current and accurate. This criteria change also empowers ACICS to analyze current recruiting and admissions practices across the field, which will result in a best practices guide for schools. This measure will minimize unethical or misleading efforts to recruit and admit students.
  • Board of ethics – This new level of oversight will help eliminate existing, or potential conflicts of interest by Board members and any ACICS-accredited schools they may be affiliated with. The Board will be comprised of two independent individuals from the ACICS community and one standing Board member. Through this Board, ACICS will now have the power to remove a Board member if the person is employed by a school that is under scrutiny or not meeting ACICS standards.
  • Enforcement – This action will remove administrative barriers for the Council to apply effective sanctions against schools that are underperforming. ACICS can now skip less punitive measures and directly place a school on probation if it sees that the institution is consistently falling short of standards.
  • Performance information – This policy change will demand that every individual campus (not just the parent institution) provide their respective student achievement data to the public in a clear, current and accessible way. Metrics around retention, placement and licensure pass rates must be listed in a prominent area of school websites.
  • Interim on-site evaluations – The Council intends to execute more mid-cycle site visits to ensure schools are meeting their commitment every day, not just when they are up for re-accreditation. During these school visits, ACICS evaluators will review all aspects of an institution’s performance. They will specifically analyze issues that could raise a red flag, such as a school’s balance sheet, enrollment changes or student achievement rates (retention, placement, licensure pass rates).
Dr. Larry Leak
Dr. Larry Leak

Whether it is through instructional delivery models or the origin of students attending, colleges in our sector are constantly evolving as they seek to keep pace with market demand. It is incumbent upon ACICS to evolve as well, and these changes I have described will ultimately make us a stronger, more reliable accreditor.

I wish to thank our Council Chair, Larry Leak for his determined efforts to shepherd through these changes to our criteria. While critics have demanded more extreme and unrealistic changes to our governance, Dr. Leak – in cooperation with the entire Council – helped usher in modifications that will eliminate any conflicts of interest with the Council and our member schools, while meeting our new requirements around recruiting practices and student achievement data submitted to the Council.

These measures are a first step in helping to restore trust and confidence in ACICS and the entire career college sector. ACICS plays a key role in regaining that trust through an accreditation model that protects the interests of our students, while sending them down a viable career path. The stakes are too high to produce anything less.

Anthony S. Bieda

ANTHONY S. BIEDA was appointed executive in charge of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools (“ACICS”) in April, 2016. Previously, Mr. Bieda served as vice president for external affairs in for ACICS, the largest and oldest nationally-recognized accreditor of career colleges and schools. He represents the council in policy forums at the state and federal level, particularly focusing on issues regarding the source of accreditation, the process and substance of quality assurance, the discernment of institutional effectiveness, and the relationship between effective career education and workforce readiness.

Mr. Bieda has more than 34 years’ experience as a policy liaison for telecommunications, public higher education, county government, and career education. Mr. Bieda initiated “The Workforce Skills Reality Check” in 2011, “The Underemployed Generation” in 2013, and the “Workforce Development Training: Bridge or Barrier to Career Education?” seminal research projects commissioned by ACICS to evaluate expectations of contemporary employers and students regarding post-secondary education that leads to relevant employment. ACICS’s program of accreditation is designed to support institutions in developing and sustaining education programs that address local economic and workforce conditions.

Mr. Bieda earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Northern Colorado, an MBA in finance at Regis College, and completed coursework toward a PhD in public policy at George Mason University in Virginia.

Contact Information: Anthony S. Bieda // Executive in Charge // Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools // 202-336-6780 // abieda@acics.org // www.acics.org



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *