The Century Foundation Files Lawsuit in Federal Court Against Department of Education

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Century Foundation Files Lawsuit in Federal Court Against Department of Education

The Century Foundation (TCF) today filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, alleging that the agency has failed to fulfill its duties under both the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by counsel from the National Student Legal Defense Network, seeks the immediate release of records related to two higher education accrediting agencies currently under federal review, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) and the American Bar Association (ABA).

The lawsuit comes just two days after the Department declined to expedite the processing of two FOIA requests made by TCF on January 23, in response to a solicitation for public comment issued by the Department that same day. TCF submitted the requests, seeking expedited processing, after the Department set an exceedingly short timeframe—a mere 15 business days—for public comment on ACICS’s application for federal recognition and the ABA’s compliance report. Under non-expedited processing (20 business days), the relevant application materials, documents that are essential to allow for informed public comment, would be made available only after the February 16 deadline for comment.

“By setting an extremely short window for public comment and then rejecting TCF’s request for expedited processing, the Department of Education has effectively rendered the public comment period useless,” said Alex Elson, Senior Counsel at the National Student Legal Defense Network, a non-profit legal organization representing TCF in the lawsuit. “How is TCF supposed to provide informed comment to the Department when the most essential materials are actively being kept secret and hidden?”

Both agencies under review by the Department have well documented recent histories of substandard performance. In September 2016, the ABA was found noncompliant with five regulatory criteria, prompting the Department to require them to “achieve compliance” within 12 months and submit a “report… documenting compliance.” In December 2016, the Department terminated its recognition of ACICS as an accreditor, finding that the institution was pervasively noncompliant with numerous criteria. To date, neither ABA’s compliance report nor ACICS’ application for renewed recognition has been made available to the public...

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