US cancels accreditation panel, Indian students hit

In a big blow to lakhs of Indian students, the US department of education has revoked its recognition to the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). There are about 250 SEVP (student and exchange visitor programme) — certified colleges and schools in the US that were accredited by the ACICS. Now, following the revocation of recognition of the US’ largest accreditor of “for profit” colleges, Indian students (graduates) of these institutions are left in the lurch. They are denied an extension of the optional practical training (OPT) from December 12. These students may also have to migrate to other colleges as their institutions have lost their accreditation and they will not be eligible for OPT extension in future. Optional practical training (OPT) stretches for a period during which undergraduate and graduate (international) students with F-1 status, who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than nine months, are permitted to work by way of getting practical training. This is to complement their field of studies, and would be for a period of 12 months, working for a US employer.


OPT extensions take big hit Those who have graduated from a US college or university with a specific degree in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) can apply for an extension of their OPT (Optional Practical Training) for an additional 24 months. This brings their total post-graduation OPT time to up to 36 months. But, following the American Education Department’s decision, officials have already started denying OPT extension for graduates of nearly 250 colleges. U. Vishnu Vardhan Reddy, CEO of Gurukul Overseas, a US-based consultancy, gave detailed insights into the accreditation procedure in the USA. “Many for-profit institutions go for national accreditation to avoid the regional accreditation which lays down stringent norms. The students in these institutions, the students applying for OPT, and graduates from these institutions applying for OPT extensions, are all affected. US immigration and customs officials have started rejecting applications of the F-1 visa-holders, who were from these institutions and who had applied for OPT extensions. Indian students are now forced to study for another degree from an accredited college in the US if they want an OPT extension,” added Vishnu Vardhan Reddy.


Although ACICS is no longer a federally recognised accrediting agency, the US department of education will continue to provisionally certify ACICS-accredited institutions for continued participation in the federal student aid programmes for up to 18 months. This 18-month provisional certification period allows institutions to seek accreditation from another federally recognised accrediting agency. But experts say this could be very hard for some of these institutions as they will likely fall short on infrastructure, faculty requirements and other norms. Aaganti Chandra Sekhar, a representative from an education consultancy of Visakhapatnam, said: “The ASICS has already started a legal battle. As there are 18 months’ time for the colleges, we are hoping these colleges will take care of matters and get accreditation. This is a wakeup call for Indian students in these 250 institutions to make alternative arrangements.”
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