Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday outlined the Trump administration’s higher education agenda for the coming year, emphasizing a greater need for alternative pathways to education and increased innovation.
During a meeting with higher education leaders at the American Council on Education (ACE), DeVos said higher education “is due for a rethink,” and that the Department of Education (ED) plans to question and examine who exactly the American student is and how each individual student should learn. DeVos briefed higher education leaders—including NASFAA President Justin Draeger—about ED’s plans on Wednesday.
“We know that higher education is about more than job training, but let's be honest: almost every student who earns a degree expects some kind of future in the labor market,” DeVos said in prepared remarks. “Too many students are unprepared for successful careers today and tomorrow. And too many are treated more like commodities instead of as the individuals they are, each with unique abilities and aspirations.”
DeVos went on to say that the options available for pursuing a higher education should match today’s diverse student population.
“We must expand our thinking about what education actually is, as well as resist the urge to expect all students to follow the same track,” DeVos said. “There should be many pathways because there are many types of students with many different interests and many kinds of opportunities with varying requirements.”
ED under the Trump administration has placed a significant emphasis on the role apprenticeships and career and technical training can play in higher education, and plans to convene a negotiated rulemaking committee focused on those topics early next year. The committee will also examine the role of accreditation in higher education, which DeVos said Wednesday “is costly, it favors the status quo, and it stymies competition.”
“And much of this is because the Department has overstepped and inserted itself into the work that Congress assigned to accreditors and institutions,” she continued.
ED on Wednesday also released two papers outlining various steps the agency plans to take in its overhaul of higher education policy. The first paper gives a broad overview of how the administration plans to rethink and reshape higher education policy by empowering students, institutions, and innovators. Specifically, the paper mentions changing expectations about what college is and who should attend, restoring “institutional autonomy and respect for an institution’s unique mission,” streamlining regulations “so as to avoid government intrusion into academic programming, curriculum, and institutional mission,” allowing new players in educational delivery and rejecting “efforts to maintain the status quo,” and more. With regard to empowering institutions, the paper mentions allowing institutions to limit student borrowing; NASFAA has long advocated for giving institutions the authority to limit borrowing in certain circumstances.
The second paper focuses specifically on accreditation reform, saying accreditors and the institutions they oversee “have too often been forced into a state of regulation-induced conformity.”
“The status quo avoids risk, but innovation cannot exist without it. Change almost always involves some degree of risk,” the paper said.
It goes on to say that at the direction of DeVos, ED has examined recommendations from lawmakers and other stakeholders with regard to accreditation, including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the Senate education committee and in 2015 convened a task force on higher education regulation.
The paper then provides several recommendations for accreditation reform, such as changing the standard for recognition; more clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of accreditors, states, and ED; providing more flexibility for institutions to innovate with educational delivery; and judging institutions based on value added rather than student selectivity by taking into account institutional mission and the student body, among other recommendations.
During the meeting Wednesday, higher education leaders were able to engage in an off-the-record conversation with ED leadership. NASFAA President Justin Draeger praised ED for its recent announcements on reducing verification burden for students and highlighted the fact that schools are anxious to see written guidance in the near future. Draeger also raised questions about the intersection of institutional accountability on student indebtedness in a world where schools have little to no practical tools to prevent overborrowing.
“Ultimately, our focus is on students, lifelong learners of all ages who want successful careers and meaningful lives,” DeVos said Wednesday. “Let's keep students—our country's future—at the center of every conversation and everything we do.”
Publication Date: 12/20/2018