Betsy DeVos orders probe after USA TODAY finds college evidently without faculty, students

Chris Quintana, USA TODAY

The U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation after a USA TODAY report showed an accredited college apparently had no faculty or students

The college investigated by USA TODAY, Reagan National University, was approved by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools. It has a history of approving several for-profit universities that suddenly closed, such as ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges in the mid-2010s. The accreditor still operates mainly because it was saved by the Education Department in 2018 under Secretary Betsy DeVos.

On Thursday, DeVos told a congressional committee she was "troubled" by USA TODAY's report and she has launched an investigation as a result.

"I was not happy to read that," DeVos said of the USA TODAY story. "We have an investigation launched, and we're on it." 

President Donald Trump is shown with his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, in this file photo.

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It wasn't immediately clear what that investigation would entail or how long it would take. DeVos did not specify whether the investigation was into accreditor ACICS specifically, Reagan National University, or both. 

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., had questioned DeVos about accreditor ACICS Thursday during a House appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Department of Education's 2021 budget request.

An investigation by USA TODAY and the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, found no evidence of students, faculty members or classrooms at Reagan National University early this year, even though it was accredited by ACICS.

Attempts to interview anyone associated with the university were unsuccessful. And a reporter who visited the college's listed addresses in Sioux Falls found only locked doors or empty rooms.

After reporters started asking questions, Reagan National University withdrew from accreditation. The college's web address, www.rnu.edu, takes users to a page that says the site is down for maintenance. 

A look at what used to be the homepage for Reagan National University, which listed its address in Sioux Falls, S.D. The web page prominently features the university's accreditation by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools first approved Reagan in 2017 and told USA TODAY the university had met its standards. In 2019, the agency raised concerns about the percentage of Reagan students who were getting jobs — zero, according to an ACICS letter. The college was given more time to comply, and the school eventually was taken off notice. 

ACICS again raised concerns in December over a variety of areas at Reagan, including course catalog language, inadequate staffing and insufficient resources for some classes. The agency told USA TODAY it stood by its accrediting practices and vetting.

At one Sioux Falls address listed for Reagan National University, a plaque reads "Si Tanka University." Reagan's operators changed the university's name from Si Tanka to Reagan in 2017. The suite was nearly empty on Jan. 29.

The accreditor did not immediately respond Thursday to USA TODAY's request for comment.

ACICS has a complicated history of its own. Under President Barack Obama, the Education Department moved to strip the agency of its accrediting power in 2016. 

After a federal court decision, DeVos and President Donald Trump's administration reinstated the accrediting agency in 2018. But as recently as November, the department had questioned the agency’s financial health and its vetting process

DeVos has made it one of her priorities to roll back some of the federal regulations around accreditation. Her argument: Fewer regulations could allow colleges to create new training programs quickly to fill holes in the workforce. But critics say cutting back the rules would make it easier for shoddy or predatory institutions to take advantage of students. 

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Erin Richards contributed to this report.

Education coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation does not provide editorial input.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Accreditation: DeVos orders probe after college evidently w/o faculty