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ICYMI: Rubio’s Accreditation Reform Proposal “An Excellent Start,” Says WSJ Editorial Board

Oct 5, 2015 | Comunicados de Prensa

Trust Busting Higher Education
Wall Street Journal
October 4, 2015
Feigning outrage that college is too expensive is a bipartisan pastime, so it’s refreshing to see [Senator Marco Rubio] taking the cost-drivers seriously. Senator Marco Rubio is highlighting an obscure network of higher-ed busybodies known as accreditation agencies, and more politicians should study up on how to reform this racket.
“Our higher education system is controlled by what amounts to a cartel of existing colleges and universities, which use their power over the accreditation process to block innovative, low-cost competitors from entering the market,” Sen. Rubio said in a speech this summer. Last week he introduced a bill with Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) that would test a voluntary certification process for vocational and nontraditional education.
Six regional accrediting groups deputized by the Education Department determine whether a college is eligible to receive federal aid dollars, and a coterie of outfits bless specific programs like, say, engineering. The regional agencies appeared in the 19th century to distinguish rigorous institutions from diploma mills, but since the 1960s have morphed into wardens of billions in handouts and subsidized student loans.

What do students get? Higher tuition, as colleges plow time and money into the process and pass on the costs. Stanford University said it spent $850,000 in 12 months of a multiyear process, and Duke University reported blowing $1.5 million over two years. Accreditors recommend changes—trimming faculty course loads, hiring more Ph.D.s—that drive up expenses without improving educational outcomes.
Most pernicious is that the cartel stifles innovation. Students can’t use federal aid at colleges that aren’t accredited, yet a school usually must serve students for years before winning approval. Accreditation amounts to monopoly enforcement, which is why in 2013 the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools swatted down an online program at Tiffin University.

Sen. Rubio’s legislation would allow the Education Department to add accreditors for innovations like boot camps where students learn to write code. The outfits (probably industry groups) could only bless programs at or above the 60th percentile in a basket of metrics— such as graduation rates, loan repayment stats, employment figures.
The bill also lays out avenues for nascent offerings, and puts authorizers on the hook for 25% of federal student-loans in default. Students would use Pell grant money for tuition, which means the proposal is geared toward low-income students.

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