What’s Next for Conservatives
A reform agenda


Sen. Mike Lee

Some combination of higher education and vocational training should at least be an option for just about everyone who graduates from high school.

Yet today, the federal government restricts access to higher education and inflates its cost, inuring unfairly to the advantage of special interests at the expense of students, teachers, and taxpayers.

The federal government does this though its control over college accreditation. Because eligibility for federal student loans is tied to the federal accreditation regime, we shut out students who want to learn, teachers who want to teach, transformative technologies, and cost-saving innovations.


And so, in the coming days, I will be introducing the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act. Under this legislation, the existing accreditation system would remain unchanged. Current colleges and universities could continue to use the system they know.

But my plan would give states a new option to enter into agreements with the Department of Education to create their own, alternative accreditation systems to open up new options for students qualifying for federal aid.

Today, only degree-issuing academic institutions are even allowed to be accredited. Under the new, optional state systems that my bill would authorize, accreditation could also be available to specialized programs, individual courses, apprenticeships, professional credentialing, and even competency-based tests. States could accredit online courses, or hybrid models with elements on- and off-campus.

These systems would open up opportunities for non-traditional students — like single parents working double shifts — whose life responsibilities might make it impossible to take more than one class at a time.

They would also enable traditional students to tailor a degree that better reflects the knowledge and skills valued by employers.

Innovations in vocational education and training would open new opportunities in growing fields that are hiring right now.

Qualified unions, businesses, and trade groups could start to accredit courses and programs tailored to their evolving needs. Churches and charities could enlist qualified volunteers to offer accredited classes and training for next to nothing. States could use innovative systems to attract new opportunities and businesses, investing in their own future by investing in the human capital of their citizens.

Imagine having access to credit and student aid and for:

a program in computer science accredited by Apple or in music accredited by the New York Philharmonic;

college-level history classes on-site at Mount Vernon or Gettysburg;

medical-technician training developed by the Mayo Clinic;

taking massive, open, online courses offered by the best teachers in the world, from your living room or the public library.

Brick-and-ivy institutions will always be the backbone of our higher-education system, but they shouldn’t be the only option.