Opinion: New School: A Plan for State-Based Accreditation Of Alternative Higher Education
"The challenge of American higher education policy today is reconciling two seemingly contradictory facts. First, higher education is more important to economic opportunity and middle-class security than ever before. And second, the standard credential of higher education – the bachelor’s degree – is being devalued by the diminishing quality and exploding costs of undergraduate education," Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), writes in an opinion piece for The Federalist. "American workers need post-secondary knowledge and skills. But a four-year (or five- or six-year) sojourn at a brick-and-ivy residential institution is not the only way to get them. Indeed, it’s not the way that most Americans get them. There are vocational schools and professional training programs. There are apprenticeships in the skilled trades. There are hybrid on-campus/on-the-job models. There is the bourgeoning promise of distance learning options, like Massive Open Online Courses. Unfortunately, this innovative, alternative market is being hamstrung by federal policy governing higher-education accreditation. ... It seems to me the answer isn’t more funding or lower rates for existing Title IV programs. The answer is to make more kinds of students and more kinds of education eligible for them. So last week, I introduced legislation to do just that. The Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act would give states the power to create their own, alternative systems of accrediting Title IV-eligible higher education providers. State participation would be totally voluntary, and would in no way interfere with the current system. State-based accreditation would augment, not replace, the current regime. (College presidents can rest assured that if they like their regional accreditor, they can keep it.) But the state-based alternatives would not be limited to accrediting formal, degree-issuing 'colleges.' They could additionally accredit specialized programs, apprenticeships, professional certification classes, competency tests, and even individual courses. Nor would states be limited to authorizing traditional accrediting agencies. Businesses, labor unions, trade associations, non-profit groups, and any other applicant that met the state’s requirements could be empowered to accredit. Under state accreditation, higher education could become as diverse and nimble as the job-creating industries looking to hire. ... We don’t need to dump our higher education system – we just need to open it up to more students and teachers. So instead of eliminating our current accreditation regime, my bill would simply allow 50 new ones to compete with it, and each other – with enough quality control to protect students and taxpayers, and enough flexibility to incentivize experimentation and innovation. The point of higher education policy should be to make it easier and more affordable for good teachers to teach, willing students to learn, the economy to grow, and civil society to flourish. State-based accreditation reform can help on all four fronts."
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