CHEYENNE — At least six of Wyoming's 10 unaccredited universities had applied for accreditation ahead of a new law requiring them to either seek accreditation or leave the state, according to the schools and accrediting agencies.
The law goes into effect today.
The Chicago-based North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement said it had received applications from Kennedy-Western University in Cheyenne and Columbia Commonwealth University in Rock Springs.
The Distance Education and Training Council in Washington, D.C., said it had received applications from American City University in Cheyenne, Paramount University of Technology in Cheyenne and American Central University in Laramie.
Newport International University in Laramie said it had applied for accreditation with the federally recognized Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools in Washington, D.C.; messages left with ACICS to confirm that were not returned.
Status of 3 schools unknown
Three other schools either had not applied to North Central or the DETC or did not return messages left Thursday by The Associated Press: Preston University in Cheyenne, American Global University in Cheyenne and Halifax University in Casper.
Meanwhile, the EC-Council, a Laramie computer security school that received its state license in February, said it tried to apply with six accrediting agencies and was turned down by every one because it had not enrolled students for at least two years.
Except for Preston University and Newport International University, which operate dozens of campuses around the world, Wyoming's private universities are online schools. Facing a growing reputation as one of the weakest states for regulating private universities, Wyoming's Legislature approved the accreditation law in March.
Accreditation generally involves an intensive review, including inspection visits by teams from the accrediting agency.
After today's deadline to apply for accreditation, the law gives schools five years to achieve it. With North Central, that's a tight schedule. Just being accepted as an accreditation candidate with North Central is a process in itself.
"They could be candidates within four to five years. It's unlikely that it would be sooner," said Lady Branham, deputy to the association's executive director. "And then accreditation is usually four years after candidacy begins. And it's not automatic. It assumes that the institution actually completely fulfills all the criteria."
She said Columbia Commonwealth had been in touch with North Central since at least last year; Kennedy-Western applied within the past couple of months under a new name, Warren National.
Kennedy-Western has its academic office in Cheyenne and business office in Agoura Hills, Calif., and graduated about 1,000 students last year. The school's director of student services, Susan Ishii, declined to confirm whether the school was seeking accreditation from North Central or was planning to change its name.
"One of the tenets of the accreditation process is that an institution cannot comment on that. It's because there are no guarantees in this particular process. It's a long process that can take four to five years on average," Ishii said.
But Ishii said Kennedy-Western supported the law change. "I personally was involved in advocating it and promoting it," she said.
Nan Bayster, director of accreditation for the DETC, said several Wyoming schools had been calling her organization in recent months. "We've had several institutions come and meet with us and try to waive our eligibility requirements to get accreditation," she said.
She said some schools asked the DETC to waive its two-years-in-business requirement. She said schools also sought to get around the requirement for distance learning to constitute more than half of a school's course offerings.
"There are some things that just can't be waived," she said.
Accreditation with the DETC, she said, is a yearlong process.
Tom Ries, spokesman for both the EC-Council and Newport International, said six accrediting agencies including the DETC turned down the EC-Council because it had not been in business at least two years. "That's all that we can go to that this school can contact," he said. "So things are up in the air."
He said the ACICS had accepted Newport International's application.
Two other online schools have left Wyoming over the past year. Rutherford University, which was based in Evanston, agreed this month to remove any references to Wyoming, including its Wyoming address and phone number, from its Web site. American Capital University in Cheyenne relinquished its state license last year.