Ted Mitchell Appointed New Head of ACE, Concerns Arise

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The American Council on Education (ACE) has announced its next leader will be Ted Mitchell.

Previously a top higher education official under the Obama administration’s Education Department, Mitchell will replace Molly Brand, the ACE’s first female leader, who is retiring after nine years in the position.

While some favor Mitchell’s appointment, others point out that he has a much more varied background than previous ACE leaders, who were generally high-powered college presidents. Mitchell’s resume, on the other hand, includes being president of Occidental College; a history professor; an administrator at the University of California, Los Angeles; and the CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit known for its ties to the charter school movement.

That last position, as well as Mitchell’s support of for-profit colleges, has caused some disquiet amongst other educators. In addition, Mitchell was unsuccessful in implementing a White House program to create a federal ratings system for colleges tied to financial aid.

Still, he has a history of advocating for innovation in higher education, including encouraging the development of more options for students seeking financial aid. He’s said he wants to work against the current “narrative that college doesn’t matter anymore for individuals and society,” in part by supporting university research as a vital part of the community.

He also aims to advocate for making higher education more accessible for a broader range of students, particularly those who avoid it because they can’t afford to take on massive student debt.

As part of the Obama administration legacy, Mitchell is coming into power at a difficult time, with the House and Senate controlled by Republicans. Some question whether or not he’ll be able to get anything done even as head of one of the biggest education lobbying groups in the country.

Mitchell himself, however, has faith, noting that his priority has always been policy, not politics. “I’m not and never pretended to be a politician,” he said. “I’ve had good working relationships on both sides of the aisle.”

Mitchell will begin his new role starting September 1.

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Accrediting Organizations Under the Microscope

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The DOE has released new rules regarding accreditation for colleges and universities.
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The US Department of Education announced today that it will be enacting new transparency measures for accreditation organizations. While they don’t currently have the legal right to actually determine how the accreditation process work, they are concerned with the large variety of methods for accrediting schools—especially since data shows that many accredited schools are actually the poorest performing schools in the country.

For-profit colleges in particular care a lot about becoming accredited because that’s how they become eligible to receive government funding. However, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that accreditation doesn’t necessarily mean quality when it comes to schools.

“Accreditation is the key to the castle for accessing the spigot of federal financial aid. It’s supposed to signify that a program provides a quality education for its students,” explained Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. However, he adds, “too often the accreditation means nothing.”

The new rules from the Department of Education will require accreditors to submit the letters they send to colleges and universities when the schools are put on probation. This will allow more transparency in the accreditation process, which is extremely fragmented right now. There are 52 separate accreditation agencies recognized by the DOE—so “accreditation” can mean a lot of different things depending on which organization is providing it. Without more oversight from the DOE, it will remain impossible for prospective students to determine just what the “accreditation” of potential schools actually means in terms of performance and student support.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is of particular note, since it’s the body that accredited the now-bankrupt for-profit Corinthian schools, which received full accreditation despite the evidence that they weren’t up to par when it came to the quality of their education. Half of the Corinthian schools rank in the bottom third of the nation in terms of students’ future earnings, and ¾ are in the bottom third in terms of repaying student loans.

Department of Education Releases List of Monitored Colleges

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The Department of Education has released a list of colleges and universities under “heightened cash monitoring.”
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On March 31, 2015, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of almost 560 higher education institutions subject to financial restrictions. Known as “heightened cash monitoring,” these restrictions are applied to colleges for a number of reasons, from submitting financial documents late to being of questionable financial viability.

The existence of this list was originally denied, but after Inside Higher Ed pursued the issue, its existence came to light, and, eventually, the list was made public. According to Under Secretary Ted Mitchell, the release is about transparency and is good for the public and the government. The twenty-one institutions under the highest level of scrutiny have not been revealed, as investigations are still under way, and the Department of Education does not want to risk contaminating evidence by alerting the public to those investigations.

Mitchell stresses that being on the list should not be considered a red light. Students and parents should not immediately see this as a reason not to attend or consider attending a school, but as a warning that they should do additional research into the institution. Forbes warns that this information could exacerbate problems for struggling colleges, as it could lead to reduced enrollment and, therefore, more financial problems.

Over half the institutions on the list are for-profit colleges: 290 of the 487 schools on the lower level on monitoring and 29 of the 69 schools in the higher level.

The schools can appear on the list for a variety of reasons, including high default rates, severe audit findings, and, perhaps most importantly, accreditation problems.

Being on the heightened cash monitoring list can delay federal funding to schools, as the Department of Education wants to ensure that schools have the “financial and administrative capacity” to receive federal support. They haven’t been entirely clear about what that means or how they use the sanctions.