Computer Systems Institute fights to keep accreditation

A for-profit school with campuses in Elgin and Gurnee is fighting to keep its accreditation as staff members lose their jobs and students are left reeling.

Computer Systems Institute is appealing a decision by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools to withdraw its accreditation, school CEO Julia Lowder said.

The school was notified by ACICS via mail last week; the move comes in the wake of a finding by the U.S. Department of Education that the school submitted false job placement data.

“We look forward to challenging the ACICS decision before its appeals panel,” Lowder said. “In the meantime, CSI maintains its accreditation pending the appeal and we expect a successful outcome.”

CSI has lost its federal Title IV financial aid at its Elgin, Gurnee and Chicago campuses. The school has seven campuses in Illinois and Massachusets.

Student Olivia Ortiz said the Elgin campus is nearly empty, and furniture and equipment were being removed last week.

Lowder didn't answer a question about whether the campus is closing. “Our goal is to continue operations at our campuses, to serve our students and the community,” she said.

The school unsuccessfully appealed the U.S. Department of Education's decision to end financial aid effective Jan. 31; the decision became final April 15, a department spokesman said. “CSI submitted false job placement data to its accreditor to maintain the accreditation of its schools, and disclosed false placement data to current and prospective students,” he said.

Lowder defended the school. “The allegations against CSI stem from claims that employers falsely reported to CSI that they had employed CSI graduates,” Lowder said.

The school's only recourse to get back its federal funding is to file a federal lawsuit; Lowder did not answer a question about whether that's in the works, but said the school did not depend on federal funds to operate.

If the school loses its accreditation, it will lose its certification to participate in the U.S. student visa program, ACICS officials said. “That would gravely hurt a school like CSI that enrolls primarily foreign students,” a council spokesman said.

Instructor Christopher Bennett, who teaches business at the Elgin campus, said he's inclined to believe it wasn't school officials who lied, but wishes someone had better monitored job placement.

“A lot of people would have kept their jobs,” he said, adding he'll be laid off at the end of this month.

A federal class-action lawsuit was filed in March by CSI employees following a mass layoff that began in February. The lawsuit later was withdrawn.

The school's troubles came as a surprise to instructors, most of whom worked very hard for little pay, Bennett said. “There's some really great instructors there, but some managers didn't treat people very well.”

Ortiz, who expects to graduate next month from the business program, said she's unhappy with her experience at the school, for which she'll owe about $2,000 in federal loans.

The curriculum was changed, instructors dwindled in numbers, and she won't be getting a graduation ceremony, Ortiz said. “I don't think all of this is what I paid for,” she said.

Ortiz, too, said she doesn't blame the instructors. “The teachers, they tried their best to work with (the situation),” she said.

Ortiz said she chose CSI after her sister graduated from the school about five years ago. Her sister is working in the medical assistance field, but neither she nor Ortiz received any help with job placement. “That's one thing they promised us, career services, and I did not receive one ounce of their help.”

Lowder said the school “will continue to support our students and staff, provide the training our students came here for, as well as career development and support services.”

Feds: Elgin/Gurnee school lied about job placement

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