The Corner

Republicans Should Fix College Accreditation — But How?

A month ago, who would have guessed that we’d be looking at GOP control of policy in both Congress and the White House? I sure wouldn’t have.

But since that has turned out to be the case, we can think about all kinds of reforms. In higher education, for example, it might be possible to change our silly system of college accreditation. Decades ago, the fact that a school was accredited probably was a fairly decent indication that it had respectable standards and was a place where a degree indicated some measure of intellectual accomplishment. That, however, is no longer true. Students today earn degrees from accredited colleges and universities without learning much. For many, college is a long party with an eroded curriculum and inflated grades, despite the fact that their schools are accredited. Without accreditation, colleges aren’t eligible for federal student-aid money. That was supposed to prevent students from wasting money on degree mills, but it hasn’t worked out the way politicians thought it would back in 1952.

In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I write about the prospects for two bills that would make serious changes in the way the accreditation system works. There’s the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act, sponsored by Senator Mike Lee and Representative Ron DeSantis and the Higher Education Innovation Act, sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio and Michael Bennet. Either or both could pass and I don’t see why Trump wouldn’t sign them into law. What they’d do is to open the system to the states (Lee) and allow new federal accreditors (Rubio) with the objective being to allow students to use federal-aid funds at a much greater variety of postsecondary education and training options.

Those changes could prove beneficial if they got Americans out of the habit of thinking that college is the best choice for almost everyone after high school. On the other hand, the existing alternatives (such as coding academies) are creatures of the free market and I fear that eligibility for federal money will infect them with the same cost and regulatory problems that we see in “regular” colleges.

Ideally, instead of making more schools eligible for federal money, we would aim at making none eligible — i.e., getting the feds out of the business of financing college entirely.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.