Visa Mills Revisited, or a Nightmare Come True

As the Obama administration has appropriately, if belatedly, started to crack down on the sleaziest of the for-profit vocational schools such as Corinthian Colleges and ITT, I worried that one or more of these entities, which had formerly victimized low-income Americans would, once they lost their Pell grants, turn to foreign students.

Neither did. Both filed for bankruptcy.

But Computer Systems Institute (CSI) of Chicago and Boston, with a somewhat similar set of for-profit, marginal educational campuses and similar problems with regulators, apparently is made of sterner stuff. As a new member of my trusty corps of informants told me this week, CSI has turned to foreign students with a vengeance, and has become a major English as a second language provider.

With the consent of the placid, if not somnolent, Student and Exchange Visitor Program, an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, CSI has potentially produced more than 3,100 Optional Practical Training permits, allowing its alien students to work full- or part-time while studying English, as the most recent SEVP report indicates.

Two points:

First, it makes little sense to issue visas to aliens to come here to study English; this can be done in something like 100 nations, including the one that created the language long before the United States was a glimmer in the eyes of our revolutionaries. I am sure to our British friends, American ESL teachers are less like Henry Ford and more like used language dealers.

Second, CSI’s so far successful ploy reflects the fracturing of educational regulation in this country. The entity has — as it should — bombed with both a primary regulator and with an ultra-lax one, but continues to get the green light from SEVP. This is a pattern we have seen before.

Let’s review the bidding.

The Department of Education, an organization that actually investigates schools’ claims, cut off the supply of federally funded Pell Grants to three of the CSI campuses when it found that they had fraudulently claimed job placements for CSI graduates that did not exist. For example, according to a comprehensive article in the Huffington Post, the address of an “employer” named Home Health Consultants, which had “hired” 42 CSI grads, turned out to be the home of a man named Quinn “who stayed behind a closed screen door and offered absurdly unconvincing answers about his operation.” Another CSI “employer” had an address that turned out to be an empty warehouse.

That DOE decision, however well merited, left CSI with five of its eight operations intact.

The next blow came from CSI’s accrediting agency, Accrediting Council for Independent Schools and Colleges, whose own pattern of laxity has led to a process by which the Education Department may, as we have reported, lead to the Department closing down ACICS completely.

Despite the ultra-low standards of ACICS, it suspended the accreditation of CSI, and then a little later lifted the suspension.

Meanwhile, despite the DoE and ACICS decisions and despite the terrible press that CSI generated, SEVP continued to let CSI issue the paper (form I-20) that permits aliens to secure F-1 and M-1 visas to attend its remaining schools. (F visas are for academic study; M visas are for vocational programs.)

Congress does not currently require most SEVP-licensed schools to be accredited by an entity recognized by the Department of Education, as it might and as it should. Congress does demand that aviation schools licensed by SEVP pass muster with the Federal Aviation Administration. Congress should mandate a similar policy provision for the earth-bound institutions that SEVP licenses.

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