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Trust Busting Higher Ed

Oct 5, 2015 | News

Feigning outrage that college is too expensive is a bipartisan pastime, so it’s refreshing to see a presidential candidate 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.

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.
Though an excellent start, the measure wouldn’t dismantle the gang of six lording over traditional colleges, where most students are educated, and the broader priority should be untangling aid and accreditation. Colleges submit detailed financials to the feds and could post independently audited statements online, as the American Council for Trustees and Alumni suggested in 2013, as well as program-specific, annually updated data about completion, default and more. This isn’t extra federal meddling; it’s streamlining what already exists.

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