By Annie Waldman / ProPublica

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren cited 17 colleges that have kept their accreditation amid ongoing government investigations. (David Shankbone / CC BY 2.0)

This piece originally ran on ProPublica.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released a report [Friday] slamming an accreditor of for-profit colleges for its “appalling record of failure.”

“Students and taxpayers have paid the price” for the failures of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, she wrote in an accompanying letter to the U.S. Secretary of Education. Warren urged the Department of Education to take “strong, aggressive action to hold ACICS accountable.”

Citing ProPublica’s reporting, Warren blasted ACICS for accrediting schools that “consistently produce astronomical debt levels and terrible outcomes for students.”

Warren’s report comes nearly a year after she grilled members of ACICS during a senate hearing on their failure to sanction Corinthian Colleges, which kept its accreditation until the day the school collapsed in bankruptcy.

Because of ACICS’ continued accreditation, the Department of Education doled out billions of dollars in federal loans to Corinthian students, despite ongoing lawsuits and investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and nearly two dozen state attorneys general.

The accreditor’s failings have persisted even after the fall of Corinthian. Warren pointed to sixteen other colleges that have kept their accreditation amid ongoing government investigations.

Accreditors are nonprofit agencies that are supposed to provide oversight on college quality. Colleges rely on an accreditor’s stamp of approval to gain access to the federal government’s generous coffers of student aid. Many for-profit schools rely so heavily on federal loans that losing accreditation could jeopardize their existence.

ProPublica previously reported that two-thirds of ACICS commissioners, who make the final decisions on a school’s accreditation, had worked as executives at for-profit schools while sitting on the council. And a third of the commissioners came from schools facing government scrutiny and consumer protection lawsuits while they were sitting on the council.

Earlier this week, ACICS announced that it would halt new applications for accreditation while it enacted reforms, including the creation of new ethics review panel to monitor conflicts of interests among its board members.

Warren joins a growing chorus of ACICS critics, including thirteen state attorneys general and numerous student and consumer advocates. Nearly all of them have called on the Department of Education to revoke the accreditor’s recognition.

A Department of Education committee is scheduled to review ACICS’ accrediting status in late June.

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