A new contender for fake university has arisen!

For years, we laughed at Kent Hovind for his Ph.D. from a degree mill, the absurd Patriot University, a cheap house in Colorado. This “university”:

It looks like they spent more money on landscaping than on their faculty.

But now, a new ridiculous “university” has emerged, and a new photo of a joke institution. Hello, Reagan National University!

Impressive. It is matched only by their elaborate web presence, which if you followed that link, is this:

It apparently has no faculty and no students, but it is accredited, for real. This story broke because pesky journalists started poking around revelations about dodgy accreditation practices.

Twice, on Jan. 29 and Feb. 12, a reporter visited the listed addresses for Reagan National University in Sioux Falls. In one location, the doors were locked, and the office suite was dark. Both had signs bearing the school’s name. At another location, the suite was mostly empty, save for some insulation scattered on the floor and a shop vacuum.

In case you didn’t know, you shouldn’t be able to put up a shingle and call yourself a university. There is a regular accreditation process in which teams of experts descend upon your university and check over the facts: how many students do you have, how many faculty, what are the available expertise and facilities, how is assessment done, how are students faring after their degree…it’s a massive amount of work. We just went through this here at UMM — I contributed tiny bits of information in my faculty role, but we also had a committee that had to put together a fat report, and the accreditors will tell us what needs to be improved, and we will take their recommendations very, very seriously and struggle to implement them before they fall upon us again. Accreditation is about standards and maintaining quality of education.

Except when it isn’t.

The accreditation agency is central to the process, and there are some of those around that aren’t quite as rigorous. Morris is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Every good university will make it clear how they are accredited.

Patriot University is ‘accredited’ by Accrediting Commission International, a religious organization based in Florida that puts their seal of approval on Bible colleges. They do not have any affiliation with the US Department of Education or the government, and are proud of that fact. Patriot University is likewise proud of not accepting those secular standards of accreditation.

Reagan National University is accredited by ACICS, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools. They claim to have some rigor, with site visits and evaluations, but somehow they missed the fact that RNU doesn’t have any faculty or students. That’s not a good sign.

At first glance, the ACICS correspondence with Reagan appears to be a purposeful response to a struggling school, said Antoinette Flores, an accreditation expert at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

But the correspondence doesn’t address the apparent absence of faculty and students that USA TODAY uncovered this winter.

“You accredited this institution. How did you miss this?” Flores said.

That Reagan sought ACICS approval in 2017, when its future as an accreditor was unclear, should also raise questions, she said. The Department of Education recognizes many groups that can accredit colleges, and universities sometimes have multiple options to choose from. Some groups may have higher standards than others.

“I don’t think this bodes well for them,” she said of ACICS. “They had said that they’re turning themselves around.”

When the accrediting body faced closure in 2016, some of its colleges found new accreditors.

The ones that were left with ACICS, said Michael Itzkowitz, a senior fellow who studies higher education at Third Way, a left-leaning think tank, probably couldn’t find accreditation elsewhere.

“They’re the bottom of the barrel,” he said.

ACICS seems to be mainly in the business of collecting fees to rubber stamp college accreditation requests. They’ve been slapped down before, and have risen again thanks to…can you guess?

The agency in question, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools, has a history of approving questionable colleges, with devastating consequences. It accredited ITT Tech, Corinthian Colleges and Brightwood College, massive for-profit universities whose sudden closures last decade left thousands of students without degrees and undermined the value of the education of those who did graduate. Those closures led President Barack Obama’s Education Department to strip ACICS’ powers in 2016.

After a federal court decision, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and President Donald Trump’s administration reinstated the accrediting agency. By that point, it had lost dozens of colleges and their membership fees. It needed new members, and fast.

The decision in 2017 to approve Reagan National University as a viable college – one that today lacks the discernible hallmarks of higher learning – calls into question ACICS’ ability to hold colleges accountable for the education they’re supposed to provide.

So now in addition to diploma mills that gouge students for worthless degrees, we have accreditation mills that gouge diploma mills for fake seals of approval. Sitting atop the scammer’s food chain is Betsy DeVos’s department of education. It’s yet another thing Donald Trump has corrupted.

At least it’s fitting that the ‘university’ is named after Ronald Reagan.


  1. johnson catman says

    At least it’s fitting that the ‘university’ is named after Ronald Reagan.

    Are you sure? It could be for some Johnnie Reagan guy that cleans up the insulation.

  2. robro says

    About PU…

    It looks like they spent more money on landscaping grading and paving than on their faculty.

    Honestly, anyone with even a tiny bit of knowledge about plants and landscaping would not equate anything in that picture with “landscaping”. It’s a parking lot.

    And is Patriot University serious about that name which so easily becomes “PU”?

    As for ACICS, what’s missing is why Betsy approved them. The USA Today article seems to pin it on ideological reasons: opening up the accreditation process. But, you have to wonder.

    Interesting the suggestion that some of the “for profit” schools are visa mills given the current administrations stance on immigration. I know a tad about that through a friend who taught ESL for many years. It’s a healthy enterprise with agents around the world getting young people into programs in the US and UK. Some of his students were preparing for college admissions tests like the TOEFL and quite diligent. But many were just here for a 6 month lark. It looks good on a resume back home…and you do learn some English whether you pay attention in class or not.

    And why did USA Today feel compelled to describe the Center for American Progress and Third Way as “left-leaning”. What does that even mean? Why does it matter?

  3. says

    @johnson catman, #1:

    curiously, they probably left the first name off intentionally to create the exact ambiguity you describe. If they had used Reagan’s full name, whichever Reagan was intended and whatever that first name might be, then unless the owners of the “university” included that particular Reagan, the eponymous Reagan could sue for a share of the profits (maybe even all of them).

    In the current case, they were almost certainly an outfit pandering to right-wing/Republican prospective students who would assume the “university” had something to do with Ronald Reagan. However, if Reagan’s family came knocking they could point to some other Reagan as inspiration for the name to (attempt to) retain their ill gotten gains.

    If anyone had lingering doubts that this might be a good-faith endeavor that failed rather a corrupt endeavor that never intended to create a center of learning, tailoring the name of their university for maximum marketing impact while still preserving a facially plausible legal argument against fraud in the “university’s” name shows the intention to deceive existed right from the beginning.

  4. Aaron says

    Describing “Third Way” as left-leaning isn’t just inaccurate, it’s fucking insulting. “Third Way”‘s entire raison d’etre is to try to reconcile social liberal language with neoliberal capitalist framing. That’s pretty far from any actual project of the Left, insofar as Left is meaningfully defined.

  5. wzrd1 says

    @3, crushed stone and leveling out the same still costs money.
    Although, likely the labor had their immigration documents accredited by Trump University…

    @5, just more “blurring the lines” to the point of meaninglessness, as everything that isn’t Trump’s fascist level is “left”, these days. That actually counts the old Amoral Majority…

  6. brightmoon says

    Betsy De Vos . Randy Rainbow calls her Cruella De Vos because of her idiotic and sometimes cruel policies.

  7. unclefrogy says

    they are not the bottom off the barrel but the crap that missed the barrel completely and ended up in the mud not even close.
    uncle frogy

  8. wzrd1 says

    @9, not quite. More like the crap that the barrel got set upon, smashing it well and allowing rapid, advanced decay.

  9. Dunc says

    And why did USA Today feel compelled to describe the Center for American Progress and Third Way as “left-leaning”. What does that even mean? Why does it matter?

    America no longer recognises facts. Every statement is now a political opinion, which can be accepted or disregarded depending on its consonance with your own outlook. Describing the source of a supposedly factual observation as “left-leaning” means that anyone who doesn’t like it is free to ignore it, because it’s tainted with a suspect ideology. It’s political correctness gone mad, for real.

    Look forward to “left-leaning” meteorologists observing that it is raining, “left-leaning” doctors advising that people shouldn’t drink bleach*, and “left-leaning” electricians saying that you shouldn’t stick your tongue into light sockets.

    (* We may have already hit this one with “Miracle Mineral Solution”…)

  10. quotetheunquote says

    America no longer recognises facts. Every statement is now a political opinion, which can be accepted or disregarded depending on its consonance with your own outlook.

    This is cynical, appalling and depressingly accurate. I can see the day coming when the Copernican model of the solar system is up for grabs, because Copernicus was a lefty intellectual who went to university (“in one of them furran countries over in Urup!”, no less)

  11. llyris says

    Did anyone else have a chuckle over Reagan ‘university’ being empty except for a vacuum???
    And as for the landscaping – harsh people. It so has landscaping; it has three rocks and a tree. You people calling it a carpark – only an idiot would stick rocks in a carpark……
    Um, well, moving right along

  12. weylguy says

    Behind that hallowed (I mean hollow-core) door and invisible ivy walks the glorious future of evangelical American academia. The university also accepts credits earned at Trump University and the renowned Close-Cover-Before-Striking Matchbook University, making graduation not just a dream but a reality for dozens of hopeful students. Perhaps best of all, you don’t need to sneak your child past its strict application requirements (your child must be breathing and white) using an SAT proxy or fraudulent claims of athletic ability, you just need lots of money.

  13. DanDare says

    I’ve always hated the left/right labels. They are close to meaningless. Yesterday here in Oz Peter Dutton was making claims about violence from “the extreme left”. When asked about who he meant on the ABC he replaid it was Islamists.