UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20202
In the Matter of Docket No. 98-50-SP
Docket No. 98-99-ST
ACKERMAN INSTITUTE FOR Student Financial
FAMILY THERAPY, Assistance Proceeding
Respondent. PRCN: 199820214707
Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy (Ackerman) participates in the various student financial assistance programs authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA). 20 U.S.C. § 1070 et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 2751 et seq. These programs are administered by the office of Student Financial Assistance Programs (SFAP), U.S. Department of Education (ED or Department). On March 4, 1998, SFAP issued a Final Program Review Determination (FPRD) in which it sought the return of $6,568 in federal funds from Ackerman. On June 22, 1998, SFAP issued a Notice of Intent to Terminate the eligibility of Ackerman to participate in Title IV programs. Ackerman filed timely appeals in both actions. On July 23, 1998, pursuant to a joint motion, the tribunal issued an Order Consolidating Proceedings. Both parties have filed submissions to this tribunal in support of their respective positions.
SFAP contends that Ackerman was ineligible to participate in the Title IV programs from 1995 to the present because it was not accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency. Ackerman disputes SFAP's claim and argues that it was fully accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). As noted in the Order Consolidating Proceedings, SFAP has the burden of persuasion in this combined proceeding.
In order to participate in the Title IV programs, a postsecondary vocational institution,
such as Ackerman, must meet certain standards of eligibility. 20 U.S.C. § 1088(c). One of these
standards is that the institution must be accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting
agency approved by the Secretary of Education. 20 U.S.C. §§ 1088(c), 1099b(m), 1141(a); 34
C.F.R. § 600.6. Title 34 C.F.R. § 600.2 defines accredited as [t]he status of public
recognition that a nationally recognized accrediting agency grants to an institution or educational
program that meets the agency's established requirements. That same regulation defines
nationally recognized accrediting agency as [a]n agency or association that the Secretary
recognizes as a reliable authority to determine the quality of education or training offered by an
institution or a program offered by an institution. That regulation further notes that the
Secretary recognizes these agencies and associations under the provisions of 34 C.F.R. Part 602
and publishes a list of the recognized agencies in the Federal Register.
In the present case, SFAP alleges that the agency that Ackerman relies upon for its
accreditation, the American Psychological Association, is not recognized by the Secretary as an
accrediting agency for Title IV purposes. The evidence offered by SFAP, including the
Declaration of Naomi Randolph, Chief of the Accrediting Agency Evaluation Branch, U.S.
Department of Education, and supplemental attachments to that Declaration, supports SFAP's
assertion that the Department recognizes the APA as an accrediting agency authorized to accredit
specific educational programs, but not as an agency authorized to accredit institutions for Title
In response, Ackerman notes its accomplishments in the field of continuing education
programs for psychologists and the value of the educational services that it provides. Ackerman
also points out that in 1986, the Department determined it to be an eligible institution of higher
education and an eligible post-secondary vocational institution. On those applications to the
Department, Ackerman had indicated that it was accredited by the APA, a conclusion that
Ackerman based upon the APA's prior approval of the school as a provider of continuing
education programs for psychologists. After the Department granted Ackerman's application, the
two parties entered into a Program Participation Agreement. In 1995, Ackerman's continuing
education program was granted a Five Year Full Approval With Inquiry by the APA
Committee for the Approval of Continuing Education Sponsors. In its 1996 application to the
Department to establish its continued eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs,
Ackerman again indicated that it was accredited by the APA.
On February 27, 1997, the APA sent a letter to the Department notifying it that the APA
Committee on Accreditation's accrediting activities are limited to programs and do not include
institutions. The APA letter specifically informed the Department that Ackerman as an
institution was not accredited by the APA. In an additional letter dated February 12, 1998, the
APA again informed the Department that Ackerman was not accredited by the APA. The letter
clarified the distinction between accredited and approved, and explained that while
Ackerman was an approved continuing education sponsor, no doctoral, internship, or
postdoctoral programs in professional psychology at Ackerman are accredited by the APA.
Ackerman argues that since it only offered Title IV aid to students enrolled in its program
that had been approved by the APA, this program was eligible for Title IV aid, and that the
distinction between an approved program and an accredited institution is merely a semantic
one that elevates form over substance. Although Ackerman argues that the APA is a
recognized and eminently reliable authority, the regulations cited above clearly state that to
be eligible, an institution must be accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency
approved by the Secretary of Education. The letters from the APA to the Department make it
clear that Ackerman was not accredited by the APA. Moreover, the evidence submitted by
SFAP demonstrates that the Department does not recognize the APA as an agency authorized to
accredit institutions for purposes of participating in the Title IV programs. Thus, the APA is not
a nationally recognized accrediting agency approved by the Secretary of Education.
Since Ackerman was not accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency
approved by the Secretary of Education, Ackerman's students were not eligible for the Title IV
aid disbursed by the school during the time period in issue. Accordingly, Ackerman must return
to the Department the $6,568 requested in the final program review determination. Additionally,
since Ackerman is not accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency approved by the
Secretary of Education, the eligibility of Ackerman to participate in the Title IV programs should
Judge Richard F. O'Hair
Dated: December 1, 1998
A copy of the attached document was sent to the following:
David B. Rigney, Esq.
Lankenau Kovner Kurtz & Outten, LLP
New York, NY 10019
Alexandra Gil-Montero, Esq.
Office of the General Counsel
U.S. Department of Education
600 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20202-2110