Golf school in Myrtle Beach working to keep its accreditation, federal aid programs

The Golf Academy of America Myrtle Beach campus located on Mr Joe White Ave. features hitting bays and a chipping and putting green at the indoor practice facility.
The Golf Academy of America Myrtle Beach campus located on Mr Joe White Ave. features hitting bays and a chipping and putting green at the indoor practice facility.

The Golf Academy of America, which has five campuses including one in Myrtle Beach, is in the process of saving its accreditation that allows its students to participate in federal student aid programs.

The school has a 16-month program that offers an Associate's Degree in Golf Operations and Management. The degree is an Associate of Applied Business at the San Diego, Phoenix and Myrtle Beach campuses, and it is an Occupational Associate’s Degree at the Orlando and Dallas campuses.

The GAA attracts a number of past military members who attend the school through their GI Bill education benefits, so retaining accreditation is integral to continuing to attract those students, and any others who seek student financial aid.

The school has been accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), but in Dec. 2016 then U.S. Department of Education Secretary John King upheld a decision of the Senior Department Official to cease recognition of the ACICS as an agency that can provide schools with a seal of approval for educational quality.

Schools accredited by ACICS had an 18-month grace period to find another accrediting agency or hope ACICS is reinstated through an appeals process.

ACICS received a reprieve from a federal judge on Friday, who ruled the Department of Education failed to consider key evidence when it reviewed and ultimately terminated ACICS’s recognition.

The judge ordered the Department of Education, which is now under the leadership of embattled secretary Betsy DeVos, to reconsider the accrediting agency's case. The decision gives ACICS, which has fought vigorously to stay alive, hope that it will be reinstated.

The national accreditor oversaw 245 institutions – many of them for-profits such as the Golf Academy of America – that collectively received $4.76 billion in federal aid in 2015, according to

ACICS is perhaps the best example of the Obama administration's multiyear crackdown on for-profit higher education. It was the accreditor of several major for-profit college companies that failed including Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute.

Gene Augustine, the Golf Academy of America Myrtle Beach campus president, said the school is well into the process of attempting to receive accreditation from another organization, the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training, while continuing its ties with ACICS.

Augustine said representatives from ACCET came to the campus in October and he thought the visit went well. He said the representatives reviewed the school’s records, checked instructor credentials and sat in on classes.

“I’m confident we’ll retain our accreditation either through ACICS being reinstated or through ACCET,” Augustine said. “I’m confident there will be no gap in accreditation. We’re continuing to work through this.”

The Myrtle Beach campus has an enrollment of 98 students, Augustine said, and costs a total of $34,300 for its four semesters. The degrees of past graduates will not be affected by the status of ACICS, since the school was accredited when the degrees were earned.

The GAA’s parent company is Education Corporation of America, which has more than 80 colleges across the U.S. They are mostly under the GAA, Brightwood College, ecotech institute, New England College of Business, Virginia College, and Culinard – The Culinary Institute of Virginia College.

The schools offer one or more of the following: certificate programs, associate degree, undergraduate degrees and graduate degree programs.

Augustine said the GAA Myrtle Beach campus is considering diversifying its offerings with a shorter diploma/certificate branch program that would allow its students to transfer into the associate’s degree program if they wanted to continue their education.

Augustine said the school has prerequisites for its instructors. For instance, the instructor of its business law class is a law school graduate, and its anatomy instructor is a licensed chiropractor. And he said the school constantly keeps up with technology for its students.

“We’re constantly refreshing everything and bringing our instruction up to date,” said Augustine, who is a graduate of the GAA’s Orlando campus who now holds a Master’s Degree.

“I worked hard for that associate’s degree,” Augustine said. “It’s a very strict standard. We hold ourselves to a high standard and the accreditors hold us to a high standard.”

The Department of Education’s decision to revoke ACICS’s ability to accredit was based on a review of ACICS's compliance with federal recognition criteria, and on the agency's deemed lack of effectiveness in applying those criteria.

The decision by the Senior Department Official to cease ACICS's recognition agreed with the recommendations of both the Department's accreditation staff and the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Improvement (NACIQI), an independent, bipartisan advisory body appointed by Congress.

But senior Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled Friday that the Department of Education violated the Administrative Procedures Act, the federal law that governs how agencies propose and establish regulations, in its handling of the ACICS review, according to

Specifically, Walton ruled that department officials failed to consider a supplement to the accrediting body's response to a set of questions the department asked ACICS in March 2016, as well as information the agency gave the department about its placement verification and data integrity procedures, according to

So he remanded the case back to DeVos for consideration of the overlooked evidence.

HS teams coming

Twenty-eight teams from nine states and Canada are headed to the Grand Strand to participate in the 20th annual Palmetto High School Golf Championship from Thursday through Saturday.

The 54-hole, college-style event begins with a qualifying round Thursday at True Blue Golf Club. Based on qualifying scores, teams will be flighted for 36 holes of stroke play competition Friday and Saturday at True Blue and Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in Pawleys Island.

Participating teams are from California, Colorado, Texas, Rhode Island, Louisiana, New Jersey, Georgia and the Carolinas, as well as Ontario, Canada. Grand Strand schools Waccamaw and St. James are entered.

The field is highlighted by Boiling Springs (S.C.) High and its top player, Trent Phillips, the fifth-ranked junior in the U.S., according to Golfweek. The event also has an optional coaches' tournament. Current PGA Tour players Rickie Fowler, the 2006 champion, and Harris English are among the Palmetto’s distinguished alums.

Caledonia and True Blue are both Mike Strantz designs that are ranked among the top 80 of Golf Magazine’s list of the Top 100 public-access courses in the U.S. For more information go to

Caddies determined

The 36 youth caddie spots for the Hootie & the Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am were determined Sunday in the 25th annual “Papa Ed” Caddie Classic at The Members Club at Wildewood.

A total of 82 junior golfers from across the state competed for the 36 spots and 4 alternate positions for the Hootie MAM, which is being played April 9 at Barefoot Resort’s Dye Club. The juniors will each caddie for a group consisting of a celebrity, pro golfer and four amateurs. They can select their groups based on their order of finish Sunday.

Qualifiers from the Grand Strand include Adrian Anderson of Murrells Inlet, who tied for second in the girls division with a 5-over-par 77 and will have the sixth pick of groups, as well as Braeden Barnett of Galivants Ferry, Camden Brown of Conway, Elijah Fesperman of Georgetown and Mia Gray of Conway.