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Breaking the Federal Monopoly on Higher Ed Accreditation

The federal government’s hold over higher education accreditation may be growing shaky, and that’s great news for students. The Heritage Foundation reports that Representative Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has introduced a new proposal in the House under which states could allow virtually any organization—from colleges to companies to nonprofits—to “credential individual courses.” As of now, only the federal government and federally sanctioned regional bodies can accredit institutions and programs. But the new proposal would offer greater flexibility for students:

From the student’s perspective, decoupling federal financing from accreditation—the heart of the [Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act]—means being able to create a totally customized higher education experience. A student might spend a semester in a traditional college setting followed by an apprenticeship at Microsoft, and then spend time taking individual courses approved by a variety of organizations. Although a traditional bachelor’s degree still might be the preferred route for many students, this alternative route would enable students to craft a customized transcript they could present to employers as soon as they have mastered the skills and competencies employers value, and importantly, to do so without accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

Changes to the accreditation laws will be staunchly resisted by traditional colleges and universities, which want to keep their protection racket in place. But their influence may be waning. If it does, transforming the accreditation process could be the first step in a broader transformation of higher ed.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Accreditation is just one more of the obvious State’s Rights usurped by the Federal government. There’s a risk of variability in accreditation standards, but should individual States fail to uphold accreditation standards, the market will quickly figure it out and discount the the value of credentials from them accordingly. And of course it’s the course, not the institution which should be accredited. How many of the courses offered by accredited institutions could pass that test? Expect the resistance to be vehement.

  • Jagneel

    OK. Walmart shoppers. Now you can earn college credits while you shop.

  • Corlyss

    I don’t know what makes De Santis thinks Uncle Sugar would disband its accreditation system just because a law sets up another system. As long as Uncle controls the money for financial aid, it is NOT going to let the funds go to organizations accredited by Joe’s Diner & College Accreditation, Inc. Students are the most easily led down the certification path by unscrupulous certificate mills that were the scandal of the late ’90s.

  • Thirdsyphon

    I’m all for expanding student choice, but it seems like we already have far too many fly-by-night, low quality institutions whose primary (and often only) tangible accomplishment is to turn a profit for their shareholders. Firing the starting gun on a new “race to the bottom” for accrediting authorities would only make this situation worse.

    I know. . . caveat emptor and all that, but when the “emptor” in question is a 17-18 year old who’s paying for college using nondischargeable debt, I get a bit queasy.

    • rheddles

      Maybe the solution is to stop lending nondischargable money to 17-18 year olds instead of regulating the educational institutions.

      • Thirdsyphon

        I like the way you think, but your solution entails either cutting off the river of Federal money that’s now going to schools or else changing the U.S. Bankruptcy Code to make it more lenient. Given the funding and influence of the banking and education lobbies, you’d have better luck trying to move a bill outlawing water.

        • rheddles

          Just remember the important folks also getting screwed here are the REALTORS(tm) and builders. Because who can afford to buy a house when you already have a mortgage?

          • Thirdsyphon

            Another good point! And unlike students, they have a heavyweight lobby.

  • teapartydoc

    No monopolies!!
    And you can’t have a monopoly without government enforcement.
    The notion that somehow things get better when run by the government is the biggest lie anyone can tell themselves.
    Are college graduates better educated and smarter than they were before accreditation became monopolized?

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