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Top 20 Fashion Schools in the Midwest
Each day we receive emails from aspiring fashion designers asking us for advice as to which fashion design schools are the “best” in the US, a given state, or in a particular area of the country. As such advice is difficult to provide on an individual basis, we have instead created this list of the Top 20 Fashion School Programs in the Midwest. For the record, we define the Midwest as Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota.
In preparing this list, we considered over 200 schools in the US that offer fashion programs. Our goal with this list is to give fashion design students a starting point to identify programs of interest and to provide some insight as to the quality and quantity of fashion design programs available to them. In the end, choosing a college is one of life's biggest decisions and we endeavor to help students make an informed decision about the school they choose to attend.
The criteria we used in making this list consists of the following, in no particular order: academic reputation, admission selectivity, depth and breadth of the program and faculty, and geographic location as it relates to cities considered to be fashion industry "meccas". More info on our criteria.
Like any list, ours is not perfect and is open for debate. There is no single opinion that trumps all when it comes to which school is the “best”. Ultimately every student has different needs regarding the type and academic rigor of a fashion design program, campus culture, as well as cost, lifestyle, and career focus. Our hope is that this list is a starting point for students to discover the schools that are the best fit for them.
1. Kent State University, Kent, Ohio
Kent State University was established in 1910 as a small teacher-training college named “The Kent State Normal School.” Today, Kent State University consists of eight campuses, with more than 27,500 students at its main campus (Kent) and more than 15,500 across the school’s other campuses. With a total student body of more than 43,000, Kent State University is the third largest university in Ohio and the 27th largest regional campus system in the nation. Kent State University campuses include Kent, Ashtabula, East Liverpool, Geauga, Salem, Stark, Tuscarawas, and Trumbull.
Kent State University (also Kent, Kent State, and KSU) ranks among the top 90 public universities in the country and Times Higher Education (a London-based higher education magazine), ranked Kent State University as one of world’s top universities in its annual World University Rankings (2010-2011). The school offers 40 Associate degree programs at seven campuses, and 236 Bachelor degree programs at all eight campuses.
Kent’ College of Arts is home to The Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman School of Fashion Design and Merchandising. The School offers a BS in Fashion Merchandising and a BA in Fashion Design. Fashion Design majors have two focus areas to choose from including Conceptual Design or Technical Design and Production.
Program highlights include the Annual Fashion Show and access to the KSU Museum costume collection, the 'TechStyleLAB', and the Fashion Library. Study Tours to Asia, Florence, Paris, and Hong Kong are also a significant component of the program as well as The Fashion School's NYC Studio, located in the NYC Fashion District. The NYC Studio provides full-semester academic programs for Kent State fashion students in the Fall, Spring, and Summer terms.
2. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Columbia College Chicago has been involved in arts education for more than 120 years. Recognized as a “pioneer in arts and media education,” Columbia College Chicago was established in 1890 as Columbia School of Oratory. Today, the school is known as “Columbia” around the City of Chicago, and it is home to more than 12,000 creative students that live by the school’s motto: “esse quam videri”– to be rather than to seem.”
Columbia College Chicago offers more than 120 programs led by a group of faculty members that are all successful in their respective fields. The school awards BA, BFA, BMus, MA, MFA, and MAT degrees in the Arts, Communication, and Public Information fields. Fashion programs include a BA or BFA in Fashion Design, a BA in Fashion Business, and a BA in Fashion Studies.
Created in 2011, the Fashion Studies BA combines Fashion Design and Fashion Business into one program. Fashion Studies majors may complete part of the program in Los Angeles or Florence, Italy. All Fashion programs are offered through the Fashion Studies Department of the School of Fine & Performing Arts.
3. , Chicago, Illinois
Established in 1866 as the Chicago Academy of Design, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is one of the oldest accredited independent schools of art and design in the country. The School’s fine arts graduate program ranks in the top two of 220 programs by U.S. News & World report, and the National Arts Journalism Survey by Columbia University’s Art Critics says SAIC is "The most influential art school in the United States.” Many of the school’s other graduate programs (Painting and Drawing, Photography, Sculpture, and Visual Communication Design) rank in the top three by U.S. News & World Report.
Located in downtown Chicago, just steps from Lake Michigan, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is home to around 3,200 students, enrolled in more than 40 departments and areas of study. Fashion students have several areas of study to choose from including a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Fashion Design, a BFA in Fiber and Material Studies, a Master of Design in Fashion, Body and Garment, and a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Fashion Body and Garment.
Located in the Sage Studios for Fashion Design “within a historic building designed by Louis Sullivan,” the Department of Fashion Design offers access to a Fashion Resource Center (“a hands-on collection of late 20th- and 21st-century designer garments representing extreme innovation”), as well as a faculty with both national and international experience and connections in the industry.
Upon graduating, Fashion students have had the opportunity to intern for international houses such as Zac Posen, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy, and Vivian Westwood. Some graduates hold senior positions at Jones New York, Tommy Hilfiger, Levis, and Nike, while others design for Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs, Betsey Johnson, and more.
4. University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio
Established in 1819, the University of Cincinnati (UC) offered the first degree program via satellite, the first Bachelor’s Degree program in Nursing, and the first emergency medicine residency program. This innovative institution is situated on 473 acres described as a “world’s most beautiful campus,” and it is home to 41,970 students enrolled in 308 programs of study. Among them is the popular Fashion Program.
Offered through the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, the Bachelor of Science (BS) in Fashion Design “includes a mandatory cooperative education component, where students work full-time in the fashion industry on alternating semesters.” This means, upon graduation, students will already have a year and a half of professional fashion experience on their resumes.
In addition to gaining valuable experience in the fashion industry, students have the opportunity to participate in the annual DAAPworks Fashion Show. “DAAPworks highlights the creative output of each year's graduating class,” at a sold-out event that is described as “the highest profile event of the year.” After the show, student creations may be displayed at the Reed, Meyers, or Sycamore Galleries of UC.
5. Columbus College of Art and Design, Columbus, Ohio
Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) is one of the region’s top art and design colleges. The school offers 18 majors and minors and a graduate program. Founded in 1879, CCAD sits on a nine acre campus in downtown Columbus, consisting of 14 buildings, and more than 1,300 students. The school awards Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees, as well as certificates in a variety of creative fields.
Columbus College of Art and Design offers a BFA in Fashion Design and Interior Design, and a Minor in Design History and Fashion Design. Students may choose a dual degree program, summer degree courses, or Study Abroad. “The Study Abroad program provides a unique opportunity to expand your horizons creatively, personally, and professionally.” Independent study abroad locations include Chile, China, England, France, Ireland, Italy, and Scotland.
6. Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
Iowa State University (ISU) was established in 1858 under the name Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm. Located in the nation’s 2nd Best College Town (by the American Institute for Economic Research), Iowa State University has grown from several dozen students, a farmhouse, and 648 acres to a 1,795-acre campus with more than 100 buildings, eight colleges, two schools, and 27,000 students.
In addition to being one of the largest universities in the region, Iowa State University is listed among the top 50 public national universities by U.S. News & World Report (2013). ISU grants Bachelor’s Degrees, First Professional Degrees, Master’s Degrees and Ph.D. and Honorary Doctorate Degrees. The school is home to more than 750 student organizations and one of the top fashion programs in the Midwest.
Iowa State University’s College of Human Sciences, Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Department is home to the Fashion Program. The Department offers a BS, MS, and a Ph.D. in Apparel, Merchandising, and Design. Iowa State University is one of one of the few schools to offer all three degree levels to fashion majors, and a distance Ph.D. program for Apparel, Merchandising, and Design.
Other program highlights include access to the Department’s Textiles and Clothing Museum, an Annual Fashion Show, the opportunity to work on the Department’s award-winning fashion magazine—Trend, and Study Abroad experiences in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Suzhou, and Wuhan.
7. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska
On Feb. 15, 2012, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) celebrated the 143rd anniversary of its founding, making it one of the oldest universities in the Midwest. With a student body of more than 19,000, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is also one of the largest institutions in the region.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is home to more than 10 colleges, offering more than 150 majors. The College of Education and Human Sciences, Department of Textiles, offers a variety of majors including a BS in Textile Science, Textile and Apparel Design, Fashion Merchandising, and Textiles & Fashion Communications. Graduate programs include MA, MS, and Ph.D. degrees in Textiles, Merchandising, and Fashion Design. Focus areas for graduate programs include Merchandising, Textiles and Apparel Design, Textile Science, and Textile History and Quilt Studies.
Fashion students have access to outstanding facilities such as the Mary Mitchell Fashion Studio and Splinter Laboratory as well as opportunities to participate in the internship program. Internship sponsors include as Vera Wang, Nicole Miller, InStyle Magazine, Tahari, and more. Students also have access to the Robert Hillestad Gallery and the Historic Textile & Costumer Collection. Fashion students may participate in a number of Study Tours, which may take them to London, Italy, Paris, Prague, Shanghai, or Beijing. Summer Tours to New York City is also on the menu.
8. University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, Missouri
The University of Missouri-Columbia offers an extensive collection of undergraduate programs for aspiring fashion professionals. The school’s College of Human Environmental Sciences, Textile and Apparel Management Department (TAM) offers BS Degrees in Apparel Marketing and Merchandising, International Apparel Marketing and Merchandising, International Apparel Product Development, and Home Furnishings and Merchandising.
The Department also offers a Master’s of Science (MS) in Textile and Apparel Management and a Ph.D. in Human Environmental Sciences with an emphasis in Textile and Apparel Management. A Digital Global Studies Undergraduate Certificate and a Minor in Textile and Apparel Management, Business, Journalism, and Entrepreneurship are offered as well to help “enhance scholarship opportunities and graduate school admittance, upgrade a resume, and engage prospective employers.”
All programs offer access to TAM’s Kellwood Apparel Technology Laboratory, the Kitty Dickerson Technology Laboratory, and the Missouri Historic Costume and Textile Collection (MHCTC). The Collection consists of more than 5,500 artifacts. Internship opportunities are available at modeling agencies, design houses, and magazines, and Study Tours are on the menu as well. Destinations include NYC, Belgium, Florence, Milan, the Netherlands, and more.
Established in 1839, University of Missouri-Columbia is home to more than 33,000 students, enrolled in more than 280 degree programs and more than 75 online degree programs. Commonly called MU or Mizzou, the University of Missouri ranks 14th in the world among universities for plant science research and the 2012 issue of Hospitals & Health Networks lists MU as one of the top 200 most wired health systems in the U.S. The main campus, which sits on 1,262 acres, is an awe-inspiring botanic garden consisting of 42,000 plants and trees.
9. Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas
Established in 1863 as the country’s first operational land-grant university, Kansas State University is one of the region’s oldest academic institutions. Commonly called “K-State,” Kansas State University began with just 53 students, under the name Kansas State Agricultural College. Today, K-State has campuses in Manhattan, Salina, and Olathe, and it is home to more than 24,000 students, enrolled in more than 250 majors across nine colleges. The Graduate School offers more than 130 programs.
Forbes Magazine, The Princeton Review, and U.S. News & World Report recognize Kansas State University as one of the best universities in America. K-State’s Fashion program is also recognized as one of the best. The College of Human Ecology, Department of Apparel, Textiles, and Interior Design offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Apparel and Textiles and a BS in Interior Design. The BS in Apparel and Textiles includes specializations in Apparel Design and Apparel Marketing.
The Department also offers a resident MS Degree in Apparel and Textiles, and a distance MS Degree in Merchandising. Emphasis areas include Design, Product Development, Marketing, and Merchandising. The College of Human Ecology offers a resident Ph.D. Degree with a specialization in Apparel and Textiles.
10. Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, Michigan
Established in 1892, Central Michigan University (CMU) is a public doctoral research university that offers more than 200 academic programs throughout eight colleges. The school is home to nearly 28,000 students, making it one of the largest public universities in the country, and the fourth largest university in the State of Michigan.
CMU’s College of Education and Human Services offers a number of comprehensive programs for fashion students. The College offers BA, BAA, and BS degrees in Apparel Design and Merchandising and Design, a Master of Science Degree in Apparel Product Development and Merchandising Technology, and an Apparel Product Development and Merchandising Technology (APDMT) accelerated Dual Master’s Degree. The accelerated program takes just five years to complete.
Fashion program highlights include the internship program, which offers hands-on training at both national and international companies, industry partnerships with Reebok, Brooks Brothers, and Malden Mills, and The Fashion Association of Merchandising and Design (FAMD). FAMD is a student organization that sponsors the program’s Annual Spring Fashion Show.
Although not required, students are encouraged to take advantage of Central Michigan University’s Study Abroad Program. Past study locations include Hong Kong, London, and Paris, to name a few.
11. Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri
Stephens College is a private women’s college situated on 86 green acres, just 120 miles from St. Louis and Kansas City. Established in 1833, Stephens College is the second oldest women’s college in the U.S. The school, which ranked 29th on the list of Best Regional Colleges in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report, offers more than 50 majors and minors.
The Stephens College Fashion Department has a variety of offerings and opportunities for aspiring fashion designers. Degree offerings include a BFA in Fashion Design and Product Development, a BFA in Fashion Communication, and a BS in Fashion Marketing and Management. Students can earn a Master's degree in as little as one year through the Department's Bachelor's + Master's Program. A Minor in Small Business or Small Business Ownership may benefit students on the entrepreneurial path. Any undergraduate program may be combined with a Master of Business Administration, Master in Strategic Leadership, or a Master of Education in Counseling.
Fashion Department highlights include 30+ visiting professionals each year, study trips to international fashion capitals, and participation in Stephens’ annual Spring Fashion Show. Internships at companies such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Victoria's Secret, Baby Phat and WWD are on the menu as well as study trips to London, Rome, Paris, Sweden and more.
12. North Dakota State University-Fargo, Fargo, North Dakota
Established in 1890 as North Dakota Agricultural College (NDAC), North Dakota State University-Fargo is part of the 11-campus North Dakota University system. The school has two campuses—Fargo, ND and NDSU Downtown, as well as a number of Extension Service and Research Experiment Station locations across the state. The school is home to more than 14,000 students, enrolled in over 100 academic programs.
Ranked among the top 108 public and private universities in the country by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, NDSU-Fargo sits on 258 acres and it is home to eight colleges, a graduate school, and continuing and cooperative education centers. The College of Human Development and Education houses the Department of Apparel, Design, and Hospitality Management. The Department offers two programs for fashion majors including a BS Degree program in Apparel Studies and a BS in Apparel, Retail Merchandising, and Design.
Fashion students with “well-defined career goals” may choose a minor or second major “that builds upon their interests.” Just a few options include Business, Visual Arts, Communications, and Theater Arts. Other program highlights include Study Tours to national and international destinations such as New York City (Fashion Institute of Technology, FIT), Minnesota, and Europe. Students also have the opportunity to intern at top companies such as Macy's, Land's End, TopShop, Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works, The Gap, and Shop NBC.
13. Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana
Founded in 1918, Ball State University is a four-year, public research university with a student body of around 21,000 students. Ball State University (BSU or Ball State) ranked eighth among “up-and-coming" colleges and universities by U.S. News & World Report and it was named one of the best universities in the Midwest by The Princeton Review for eight years. The school was also featured in The Princeton Review's Guide to 322 Green Colleges (2013).
Ball State University offers around 180 majors, eight master's degrees, and 16 doctoral degrees across 60 colleges and departments. The Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) Department is home to the school’s Fashion Program. The Department offers BS Degrees in Fashion Merchandising, Apparel Design, and Interior Design. Fashion Merchandising students must complete the FCS common core and a Marketing Minor.
In addition to internship opportunities with local and national retailers, Fashion students have more than 300 Study Abroad options to choose from. Just a few locations include Spain, New Zealand, Japan, and England. Although Study Abroad experiences are optional, the Department encourages participation to help enhance the BS degree programs and future career opportunities.
14. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
Established in 1869, Purdue University opened to the public in 1874. The school sat on a 100-acre campus and it was home to just six instructors and 39 students. The first graduating class consisted of 14 students. Today, the school’s main campus—West Lafayette, sits on 2,552 acres, with a total of 372 buildings and 37,536 students enrolled in more than 270 programs. In addition to the main campus, Purdue University has 14,517 acres of agricultural land and four additional campuses at Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Hammond, and Westville. Purdue’s campuses and agricultural land total nearly 19,000 acres.
In addition to a sprawling campus, a large collection of program offerings, and one of the nation’s largest student bodies, Purdue University has maintained its top 25 ranking among the nation's public universities by U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News also ranks Purdue 65th among all universities.
The College of Health and Human Sciences, Department of Consumer Sciences and Retailing is home of the Apparel and Design Technology program. This unique program prepares students for careers in Apparel Design, Merchandising, Fashion Illustration, CAD Systems Management, Patternmaking, Freelance Design, and Quality Assurance. Program highlights include the annual Spring Fashion Show, field experience, and training on the latest industry software for CAD and other applications.
Although not mandatory, the Department encourages participation in the International Fashion and Retailing Study Abroad Tour. The Tour includes visits to European design houses, manufacturers, retailers, and more.
15. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Established in 1851, the University of Minnesota is home to more than 69,000 students, making it the largest university in the State of Minnesota. The school has five campuses including Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul), Crookston, Duluth, Morris, and Rochester). Twin City campus stretches across 1,150 acres in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and it features green spaces, historic architecture, and the scenic Mississippi River.
The University of Minnesota offers more than 180 programs throughout 19 colleges and schools. The College of Design is home to one of the country’s top fashion design programs. Offerings include BS Degrees in Apparel Design, Retail Merchandising, and Interior Design and MA, MS, and PhD Degrees in Design with an Apparel Studies Track. Minors in Retail Merchandising and Fashion Studies are also on the offered.
Enrollment in the Study Abroad program is not required, but the College of Design encourages it. Fashion students may participate in the program during their third year of study. Just a few destinations include Australia, Fiji, Italy, the Netherlands, and London. Students may also participate in global seminars, freshman seminars abroad, and the work, intern, and volunteer abroad program (non-credit).
16. Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio
Bowling Green State University (BGSU) was established in 1910 as a teacher-training institution. The school opened with 304 students and 21 faculty members and it awarded its first Bachelor’s Degrees in 1917. Today, Bowling Green State University sits on a 1,338-acre campus, just 24 miles from Toledo—Ohio’s fourth largest city, and it is home to more than 20,000 students, enrolled in 200+ majors, across seven colleges and a graduate school.
Bowling Green State University has one of the top Apparel Merchandising & Product Development (AMPD) programs in the region. The four-year program leads to a Bachelor of Science (BS). The program requires the completion of a Marketing option or enrollment in the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. Students that choose the FIT option may focus on Advertising and Communications or Textile Development and Marketing.
Although optional, BGSU recommends enrollment in the Apparel Internship and the Study Abroad program. Both experiences can help enhance career, academic, and other opportunities. Apparel Internships are available at local and national retailers, brands, and magazines. Study Abroad opportunities are short-term (1-10 weeks), semester long, or year-long experiences in places such as Spain, Bolivia, Italy, England, or Brazil, to name a few.
17. Ohio University, Athens, Ohio
Ohio University was established in 1804, making it the nation’s ninth oldest public university, the oldest in Ohio, and the first in the Northwest Territory. The school, which holds 82 nationally and internationally competitive awards, including eight Fulbrights, is home to nearly 22,000 students and it ranks 65th among public national universities by U.S. News & World Report (2012). Ohio University offers 250 programs across 11 colleges.
One of the school’s top colleges, The Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education, dates back to 1886 with the founding of a Normal Department at Ohio University. At its founding, the Normal Department at Ohio University was the state’s first state-supported teacher preparation program. In 2010, after a large donation to the College of Education by Ms. Violet L. Patton (in honor of her parents, Gladys and David Patton), the College became known as The Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education.
Today, the College is home to three departments including Teacher Education, Human and Consumer Sciences Education, and Recreation and Sport Pedagogy. The Department of Human and Consumer Sciences Education offers a BS in Retail Merchandising and Fashion Product Development and a MS in Apparel, Textiles, and Merchandising. All students have the opportunity to work, volunteer, or intern abroad in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and more.
18. University of Akron, Akron, Ohio
The University of Akron (UA) was established in 1870 as Butchel College. The school opened in 1872 with just 46 students in the collegiate program and 171 in the academy. Today, the University of Akron sits on a beautiful 218-acre campus, including 34 acres of green space, and it is home to more than 28,000 students, enrolled in over 300 undergraduate and graduate programs. UA also offers courses online and across the region in Lakewood, Brunswick, Medina, Orrville, and Millersburg, OH.
The Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences, School of Family and Consumer Sciences offers BA Degrees in Fashion Merchandising and Interior Design. The Fashion Merchandising program offers three specialization tracks including Apparel, Fiber Arts, and Home Furnishings. The program offers access to the textile, fiber arts, and computer laboratories, as well as the Historic Costume Collection.
Coursework prepares students for the MA in Family and Consumer Sciences, Clothing, Textiles, and Interiors program, or to enter the fields of fashion and furnishings. A major component of the program is the internship course. Recent placements include Gap, DKNY, Gucci, Prada, Nordstrom, Ralph Lauren, Marie Claire, and Cosmo Girl Magazines. Possible opportunities upon completion of the BA program include Assistant Buyer, Visual Merchandiser, Department Manager, and Assistant Store Manager, to name a few.
19. Indiana University-Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana
Founded in 1820, Indiana University-Bloomington (IU Bloomington) is one of the top Universities in the region—if not the U.S. IU Bloomington was named the “Hottest Big State School” by Newsweek, America’s Hot Colleges, and the IU Campus was named “most wired” among public universities by PC Magazine (2006). IU Bloomington was even named “College of the Year” by Time Magazine in 2001.
The Indiana University-Bloomington campus sits on 2,000 scenic acres, just 54.9 miles from the state’s largest city—Indianapolis. The school offers more than 180 majors and 330 degree programs, throughout more than 15 colleges and schools. In addition, IU Bloomington’s Study Abroad program is one of the largest in the nation, offering 250 programs in 17 languages.
The Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences is home to the Department of Apparel Merchandising & Interior Design. The Department offers a BA in Fashion Design, and BS Degrees in Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design. Department highlights include an Annual Retail and Design Forum, a Career Development Center Internship Fair, Study Tours, and an Annual Fashion Show. Students may also join the Retail Studies Organization (RSO) and/or the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) Organization.
20. Virginia Marti College of Art and Design, Lakewood, Ohio
Virginia Marti College of Art and Design (VMCAD) opened its doors in 1966, with just five students and a small collection of fashion courses. Originally named “Virginia Marti College of Fashion and Art,” VMCAD quickly evolved into a degree-granting school that awarded Associate Degrees in Fashion. Today, Virginia Marti College of Art and Design offers Digital Media, Graphic Design, Interior Design, Fashion Design, and Fashion Merchandising programs.
All fashion programs offer small class sizes, access to internship opportunities, and on-site facilities. The Fashion Design and Fashion Merchandising programs lead to an Associate of Applied Business Degree. Virginia Marti College of Art and Design is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).