Enrollment for colleges and schools providing workforce education has surged as unemployed professionals look to refocus their career training or seek secondary training for future employment opportunities. These trends are reflected in new data gathered by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), the largest accreditor of degree-granting career colleges in the country. The unemployment rate has reached its highest point since the Great Depression and will be the subject of much discussion this week during a White House jobs summit. Now more then ever is the time for enhanced collaboration between policymakers, employers and the education sector.
ACICS reached two important milestones in November: The Council now accredits 780 colleges and schools in 11 countries, with a combined enrollment of those institutions exceeding 700,000 students. Likewise, there has been a surge in the number of applicants seeking an initial grant of accreditation through ACICS. As many as 62 institutions are in the pipeline for an initial grant evaluation in the next year. Key highlights derived from most recent annual institutional reports include an average enrollment of nearly 1,000 students per institution, and average retention and placement rates that exceed ACICS standards. These are significant findings in light of the challenges created by the economic downturn.
ACICS has been in the quality assurance business nearly as long, or longer, than the regional accrediting agencies that assure the quality of major research universities. As a national accrediting agency, ACICS is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) for accreditation of professional, technical and occupational career education programs. Specifically, the recognition gives ACICS the authority to require institutions to track and report the rates at which students continue in programs of study, and the rates at which they are placed in related fields of employment, even in difficult economic conditions. These tools provide an important mechanism for the protection of federal student financial aid and the protection of the interests of students.
Accredited career education is growing organically as unemployed Americans get ready to go back to work when the economy recovers. National accreditors like ACICS play an important role in ensuring the quality of that education, workforce training and skill acquisition. Policymakers at state and federal levels are encouraged to harness that resource and apply it to their economic recovery strategies within their local communities.