WASHINGTON — Federal education officials are standing by their decision to cut ties with the nation’s largest accreditor of for-profit colleges – a ruling that will bar hundreds of schools from providing federal financial aid and likely force some to close.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which oversees more than 250 institutions nationwide with a combined enrollment of 600,000 students, had appealed a September Education Department decision to strip it of credentialing authority.

In a statement, ACICS interim president Roger Williams said the organization would “seek immediate redress from the courts” to avoid losing recognition as an accreditor. But should the decision stand, it will set off a scramble among ACICS accredited schools to find a new accreditor and force students to confront the possibility that their school might close.

The schools are eligible to continue offering federal financial aid to students for as long as 18 months while they seek a new accreditor.

But within 30 days, the schools must provide the government with a “teach-out plan” to provide an orderly shutdown if necessary. Schools that don’t appear to be on track to meet the standards of another accreditor will face limits on their ability to enroll new students and tightened records retention requirements. They may also be required to post a letter of credit to cover at least part of the government’s potential losses on failed schools’ loans.

The action to remove federal recognition of ACICS came after a lengthy review of its operation.

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