On January 24, attorneys general for Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Illinois, New York, and the District of Columbia filed a motion to intervene in a case between the U.S. Department of Education and the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (“ACICS”). 

ACICS, which previously has come under federal scrutiny for its accreditation practices, filed the suit against the Department of Education in late December, challenging the Department’s decision to terminate ACICS as a federally recognized accreditor of postsecondary education programs.   

The motion filed by the attorneys general states that ACICS’s “accreditation failures are both systemic and extreme.  If ACICS is successful in its efforts to vacate the Secretary’s well-founded decision to terminate ACICS’s recognition as a federally recognized accreditor, the State Movants’ interests in protecting their students, ensuring the effectiveness of state regulations, and preserving finite state resources will be harmed.” 

The states note that they are one of the “long-established ‘triad’” of higher education authorities, including also the federal government and accrediting agencies.  They explain that states rely on the federal accreditation system to monitor the quality of higher education options being offered to the general public.  The states note that ACICS failed to identify issues at, or terminate accreditation of, a number of for-profit institutions that have either filed for bankruptcy or where government investigations have found misconduct for things such as fabricating job placement rates.  In a press release, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan stated, “ACICS gave legitimacy to for-profit schools that have left millions of students with useless degrees, astronomical levels of debt and poor job prospects.” 

This case is one of several recent instances of Democratic attorneys general seeking to intervene in federal cases, perhaps indicating an increase in state action in response to the Trump administration.   

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has not yet ruled on the motion to intervene.  Troutman Sanders LLP will continue to monitor this case as it proceeds.