Founded in 1912, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is one of the most respected and longest established national accreditors of academic institutions in the United States. It is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
The scope of ACICS recognition by the Secretary of Education is defined as accreditation of private postsecondary institutions offering certificates or diplomas, and postsecondary institutions offering associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degrees in programs designed to educate students for professional, technical, or occupational careers, including those that offer those programs via distance education.
ACICS currently accredits more than 950 institutions throughout the United States and more than a dozen foreign countries enrolling more than 900,000 students. ACICS is a not-for-profit organization incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia with offices maintained in the District of Columbia.
ACICS Mission Statement
The mission of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools is to advance educational excellence at independent, nonpublic career schools, colleges, and organizations in the United States and abroad. This is achieved through a deliberate and thorough accreditation process of quality assurance and enhancement as well as ethical business and educational practices.
In 1912, at the start of this organization, the principal goal was “to establish and advance the quality of education and the standards of excellence at private career schools and colleges.” Today, we are proud to say those words remain the goal and the focus of ACICS.
For a more complete history of ACICS, please access the ACICS centennial book:
In December 1912, Benjamin Franklin Williams, president of the Capital City Commercial College of Des Moines, requested the presence of 22 private career school administrators at a hotel in Chicago. Benjamin had the idea of forming an organization for private career schools. On the evening of December 12, the National Association of Accredited Commercial Schools (NAACS) was formed. The original mission of the NAACS was “to develop and maintain higher educational, business, and ethical standards in commercial education and insofar as may be legal, proper, and desirable to protect the interest and enlarge the usefulness of member schools.” Ben Williams was elected President, a post he would hold with grace and strength for the next 25 years.
The first 25 years were relatively successful for the NAACS. W.N. Watson, chairman of the Membership Committee, helped develop an application that the proprietor of each member school was required to submit, along with recommendations from other businesses and schools in their community. An Educational Committee created models of typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping programs. This committee also served as the liaison for the North Central Association and the U.S. Bureau of Education. Another important committee, the Vigilance Committee ensured that member schools complied with ethics codes, as well as business practices and educational policies. For many years, the officers and member schools worked in harmony, with physical headquarters or full-time staff.
On May 25, 1917, the NAACS became legally incorporated in D.C. They also started the Accredited School’s Supply Company. It was developed as a cost effective way to provide books and other supplies for member schools.
In 1920, the NAACS developed a code of ethics and educational policies that all members were required to comply with.
By 1921, the membership of the NAACS had grown to 228 members, and the main issue was internal communication. This problem was solved by the Accredited News, the NAACS newsletter. The first Member Conference of the NAACS was held in 1923. During the conference there were speakers, songs and fellowship, as well as forums on school management. During this time, the Vigilance Committee of the NAACS was also working hard to define standards of practice for the organization. The committee visited member schools, and created a system of inspection for new members and schools with financial, managerial, or educational hardship.
During the 1930’s, private career schools were under pressure to compete with what public schools were offering, such as evening and weekend classes. The Board of the NAACS encouraged members to join other recognized educational organizations in order to stay abreast of trends and voice their concerns. But the Depression, and then World War II, gave people more serious things to worry about, and interest, as well as membership waned.
In 1931 The Southern Accredited Business Colleges merged with the American Association of Vocational Schools to form the American Association of Business Schools (AABS). This group was a formidable rival for the NAACS and even published a newsletter called the Compass. Eventually, the AABS changed its name to the American Association of Commercial Colleges (AACC), but its mission remained unchanged and its practices were much like the NAACS. The AACC grew in strength and numbers throughout the 30’s, and did not stress accreditation as an activity. They remained a powerful force for over thirty years, until an event in the 60’s ended their independence.
After WWII, new interest in education, along with new programs (speaking, court reporting etc.) brought scores of new students into private career schools. Private school leaders worked diligently to have their schools recognized as eligible schools for the GI Bill and eventually succeeded.
In 1949 the National Association of Accredited Commercial Schools (NAACS) and the National Council of Business Schools (NCBS) consolidated and become one. At the jointly held Annual Convention, the boards of both the NAACS and the NCBS finalized the merger and they became the National Association and Council of Business Schools or the NACBS. The word accreditation was dropped from the name.
The organization felt that it was important to clearly identify the purposes and goals of its member institutions and in 1952; an accrediting commission of the NACBS was formed, becoming the Accrediting Commission of Business Schools or ACBS. The Commission adopted new policies and standards of practice. They also worked on general requirements for entrance in private career schools, catalogs and minimum degree requirements, establishing the early drafts of what is now the ACICS Accreditation Criteria.
In 1962, the AACC and the NACBS unified and became the United Business Schools Association (USBA). The Compass became the official voice of the new organization and the Business School Executive ceased publication. At the end of the year, the organization celebrated its 50th anniversary with a focus on the future and the huge amount of work still left to be done.
In the 1960’s, private education underwent a major overhaul in the government. With the passing of bills like the Vocational Education Act and the Manpower Development Training Act, more people were taking advantage of private educational opportunities. With this came more involvement from the USBA and more recognition from the government. Because of this, the USBA decided to establish and maintain a full-time staff in the Washington DC headquarters. In 1972, members voted to change the name of the USBA to the Association of Independent Colleges and Schools (AICS). The sub-committee that focused on the accreditation (Accrediting Commission of Business Schools) was shortened to the Accrediting Commission. In 1983, the organization moved to brand new quarters in One Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. Eight years later, in 1991, the organization was renamed the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) and a year later, moved to its current address on First Street, NE, in Washington DC. The Accrediting Commission was phased out once it was realized that ensuring the quality of the member institutions is essentially what accreditation is and is thus, the primary focus of the organization.
The strength of ACICS has been its responsiveness to the changing educational and career needs of students, employers and the public. ACICS has been successful in adapting to these needs without compromising its accreditation standards. To meet workforce demands, our institutions are constantly developing new programs, and we review and evaluate each one of them. Our accreditation standards are sufficiently specific that we are not disconcerted by new curricula, new methods of delivery or new forms of administrative organization.
The Council is composed of fifteen commissioners, each of whom must be either elected by the membership or appointed by the Council. Each commissioner is a member of the Board of Directors, and in this capacity they oversee both the administrative and corporate activities of the Council.
Accreditation may be granted for a period of up to eight years, but ACICS continually holds accredited institutions accountable for the educational programs they deliver. Each year, member institutions submit an audited financial statement and a detailed institutional report that includes enrollment, retention and job placement rates. ACICS publishes this information in the aggregate, allowing students, the public and policy makers to assess how our member institutions are performing. Institutions that do not comply with standards are required to submit additional reports and risk losing accreditation.
In addition to its accreditation activities, ACICS offers workshops throughout the year. Attendance at an accreditation workshop is required for representatives of new applicants before they submit a self-study and for the on-site administrator or coordinator of a self-study for currently accredited institutions. Other workshops are offered for evaluator training, institutional effectiveness, and financial planning and distance education. Consultation services are provided to institutions that require specific guidance to meet accreditation standards.