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.