The Golf Academy of America, which has five campuses including one in Myrtle Beach, is in the process of saving its accreditation that allows its students to participate in federal student aid programs.
The school has a 16-month program that offers an Associate’s Degree in Golf Operations and Management. The degree is an Associate of Applied Business at the San Diego, Phoenix and Myrtle Beach campuses, and it is an Occupational Associate’s Degree at the Orlando and Dallas campuses.
The GAA attracts a number of past military members who attend the school through their GI Bill education benefits, so retaining accreditation is integral to continuing to attract those students, and any others who seek student financial aid.
The school has been accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), but in Dec. 2016 then U.S. Department of Education Secretary John King upheld a decision of the Senior Department Official to cease recognition of the ACICS as an agency that can provide schools with a seal of approval for educational quality.
Schools accredited by ACICS had an 18-month grace period to find another accrediting agency or hope ACICS is reinstated through an appeals process.
ACICS received a reprieve from a federal judge on Friday, who ruled the Department of Education failed to consider key evidence when it reviewed and ultimately terminated ACICS’s recognition.
The judge ordered the Department of Education, which is now under the leadership of embattled secretary Betsy DeVos, to reconsider the accrediting agency’s case. The decision gives ACICS, which has fought vigorously to stay alive, hope that it will be reinstated.
The national accreditor oversaw 245 institutions—many of them for-profits such as the Golf Academy of America— that collectively received $4.76 billion in federal aid in 2015, according to InsideHigherEd.com.
ACICS is perhaps the best example of the Obama administration’s multiyear crackdown on for-profit higher education. It was the accreditor of several major for-profit college companies that failed including Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute.
Gene Augustine, the Golf Academy of America Myrtle Beach campus president, said the school is well into the process of attempting to receive accreditation from another organization, the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training, while continuing its ties with ACICS.
Augustine said representatives from ACCET came to the campus in October and he thought the visit went well. He said the representatives reviewed the school’s records, checked instructor credentials and sat in on classes.
“I’m confident we’ll retain our accreditation either through ACICS being reinstated or through ACCET,” Augustine said. “I’m confident there will be no gap in accreditation. We’re continuing to work through this.”
The Myrtle Beach campus has an enrollment of 98 students, Augustine said, and costs a total of $34,300 for its four semesters. The degrees of past graduates will not be affected by the status of ACICS, since the school was accredited when the degrees were earned.
The GAA’s parent company is Education Corporation of America, which has more than 80 colleges across the U.S. They are mostly under the GAA, Brightwood College, ecotech institute, New England College of Business, Virginia College, and Culinardx—The Culinary Institute of Virginia College.
The schools offer one or more of the following: certificate programs, associate degree, undergraduate degrees and graduate degree programs.
Augustine said the GAA Myrtle Beach campus is considering diversifying its offerings with a shorter diploma/certificate branch program that would allow its students to transfer into the associate’s degree program if they wanted to continue their education.
Augustine said the school has prerequisites for its instructors. For instance, the instructor of its business law class is a law school graduate, and its anatomy instructor is a licensed chiropractor. And he said the school constantly keeps up with technology for its students.
“We’re constantly refreshing everything and bringing our instruction up to date,” said Augustine, who is a graduate of the GAA’s Orlando campus who now holds a Master’s Degree.
“I worked hard for that associate’s degree,” Augustine said. “It’s a very strict standard. We hold ourselves to a high standard and the accreditors hold us to a high standard.”
The Department of Education’s decision to revoke ACICS’s ability to accredit was based on a review of ACICS’s compliance with federal recognition criteria, and on the agency’s deemed lack of effectiveness in applying those criteria.
The decision by the Senior Department Official to cease ACICS’s recognition agreed with the recommendations of both the Department’s accreditation staff and the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Improvement (NACIQI), an independent, bipartisan advisory body appointed by Congress.
But senior Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled Friday that the Department of Education violated the Administrative Procedures Act, the federal law that governs how agencies propose and establish regulations, in its handling of the ACICS review, according to InsideHigherEd.com.
Specifically, Walton ruled that department officials failed to consider a supplement to the accrediting body’s response to a set of questions the department asked ACICS in March 2016, as well as information the agency gave the department about its placement verification and data integrity procedures, according to InsideHigherEd.com.
So he remanded the case back to DeVos for consideration of the overlooked evidence.