SHREVEPORT, La. — Seven Louisiana technical colleges could be without federal aid if their accrediting agency is no longer recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

The U.S. Department of Education informed the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools Thursday that its renewal of recognition is denied. The accrediting body has approximately 245 colleges nationwide and seven of those are in Louisiana. College accreditation gives students the opportunity to access federal aid including student loans and Pell grants.

ACICS has 30 days to appeal the U.S. DOE’s decision and plans to move forward with the appeal process.

If the accrediting agency’s appeal is denied, then all ACICS campuses would have up to 18 months to find a new accrediting agency or lose federal student aid.

The Louisiana schools who could potentially be affected by the final decision include Virginia College with campuses in Bossier City and Baton Rouge, McCann School of Business and Technology in Shreveport and Monroe, Camelot College in Baton Rouge, Delta School of Business and Technology in Lake Charles and the Louisiana Culinary Institute.

The Louisiana Culinary Institute is also accredited by the Council on Occupational Education. This accreditation allows for financial aid to be received by qualifying students in LCI’s Associate of Occupational Studies programs.

“While we are disappointed in this decision, ACICS plans to continue diligent efforts to renew and strengthen its policies and practices necessary to demonstrate this agency’s determination to come into full compliance with the Department of Education’s recognition criteria and, most importantly, to improve outcomes for the estimated 600,000 students currently attending ACICS-accredited institutions,” said ACICS Interim President Roger Williams.

We are confident that if given the opportunity to do so, we will be able to demonstrate major reforms and ongoing progress towards compliance with the Department’s recognition criteria.”

Education Corporation of America’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Diane Worthington, said both Virginia Colleges in Louisiana have a total of 910 students. She said the circumstances will not immediately affect students and the college is already looking into other accrediting agencies as a precautionary.

“During the appeal process, we remain accredited,” she said. “We are in the process of getting communication out to students and they will be informed today. If we lost accreditation, students will still have eligibility for their federal financial aid for 18 more months. So for Virginia College, most of our programs can be completed within that time period, so there’s really no reason to leave and go somewhere else.”

McCann School of Business and Technology in Shreveport and Monroe are also exploring their options.

“It’s important to know that we are, of course, exploring all of our options with other, potential accrediting organizations. We will be ready for any change and will plan for a seamless transition in order to protect our students and their career plans,” said McCann School of Business and Technology spokesman Chuck Vella.

In June, the National Advisory Committee of Institutional Quality and Integrity denied re-authorizing ACICS. In the committee’s recommendation, there were more than 20 criteria for recognition the agency failed to meet.

According to the Center of American Progress, ACICS has 17 institutions, campuses or corporate entities under investigation that have accepted more than $5.7 billion in federal funds over the past three years.

“That represents 52 percent of all federal aid dollars received by ACICS-approved colleges during that time period,” the report stated.

The largest national accrediting agency organization of for profit colleges and institutions was founded in 1912 and accredits institutions who offer a variety of programs, which include technical, occupational and professional fields, according to its website.

The U.S. Department of Education recommends that students not panic since the final decision will not affect them immediately.

“The chain of events that plays out next will take – at minimum – more than 18 months,” according to U.S. DOE. “That means that many of the students who already have started at one of these schools will be able to complete their certificates or degrees before there is a chance of anything changing.”

This story has been corrected to clarify accreditation for the Louisiana Culinary Institute. An AP Member Exchange

Information from: The Times,