The Corner

Lee Pitches Higher-Ed Reform

Senator Mike Lee is expanding his brand. The outspoken conservative Utahn, who made myriad headlines during the government shut down for his opposition to Obamacare, has been pushing for a legislative agenda touching on a host of issues that aren’t typically associated with Republicans. In the previous months, he’s introduced legislation on tax reform, transportation reform, and comp time. And today in a speech at the Heritage Action Conservative Policy Summit, the senator pitched higher-education-reform legislation intended to lower barriers to post–high school education.

At issue are federal student loans, which can only be used to pay for education at federally accredited institutions. Lee argued that this policy makes the federal government a gatekeeper to higher education — and rather than keeping out bad actors, he said, it just protects institutions from competition. And as the government has closed and then subsidized this market, its product (the ubiquitous Bachelor’s degree) has become more expensive and less valuable.

So Lee’s proposed fix would let states set up their own accreditation regimes that would run parallel to the federal government’s.

“College presidents can rest assured that if they like their regional accreditor, they can keep their regional accreditor,” he said. “And I mean it, I’m absolutely sincere.”

Lee said the legislation could let states open accreditation for apprenticeships, professional certifications, and competency tests, among other alternative higher-ed modes. Apple and Google, for instance, could work to make accredited computer courses.

“How long does one really think we have to wait for Heritage University?” Lee said, laughing.

Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham, who listened from a seat onstage by Lee, said, “It would horrify a lot of people, I think.”

Brian Phillips, a spokesman for the senator, tells NRO Lee will introduce welfare reform this week and Head Start reform after recess, and that his office also has an anti-cronyism agenda in the works for this spring.

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