Still A Viable Exit

The really big accreditation news related to for-profit higher education Monday (see related article) was the decision by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges not to accredit Ashford University.

But the other decision that the Western accreditor's senior college commission announced on Monday — to let a company called UniversityNow take over the struggling nonprofit Patten University — has significant implications for for-profit and nonprofit higher education alike.

For several years in the mid-to-late 2000s, numerous nonprofit colleges — often out of other options — agreed to let for-profit higher education providers subsume them. Some of those arrangements worked out well, but others essentially became shortcuts for the purchasers to attain highly sought regional accreditation that they might not have been able to achieve otherwise (or at least not nearly as quickly). (Ashford was in many ways the poster child for that process, to the displeasure of many critics.)

That pathway appeared to be cut off two years ago, when the country's biggest regional accreditor — the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools — rejected two requests by for-profit entities to have accreditation continue with their purchases of nonprofit colleges (Dana College, in Nebraska, and Rochester College, in Michigan). Several experts said accreditors had approved no such "change of control" purchases since, leaving many observers with the impression that they were no longer possible.

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