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US Dept. of Ed rethinking higher education

January 24, 2019

A rulemaking committee, convened by the U.S. Department of Education, has begun work to rethink higher education and is considering ways to refine and streamline the accreditor recognition process and role, while also reviewing regulatory areas affecting innovation in higher education. The committee was convened to develop proposed regulations related to a number of higher education practices and issues, including: accreditation; distance learning and educational innovation; TEACH grants; and participation by faith-based educational entities.

Two Department of Education reports released last month will help inform the committee’s work and concern accreditation reform and rethinking higher education. The department’s white paper, Rethinking Higher Education, posits that America’s legacy in higher education is under threat from higher costs and growing differences regarding the purpose of postsecondary education. It presents many principles for reform that include goals to empower students, institutions and innovators. The suggestions include empowering students  by enabling academic and career mobility and improving access to federal student aid; empowering institutions by providing regulatory relief, constructing accountability measures and rewarding institutional value-added rather than student selectivity; and, empowering innovators by expanding student aid, and enabling institutions to integrate programs developed and delivered by non-accredited providers into their accredited, Title IV programs.

The second report, Accreditation Reform, includes proposals such as:

  • Increase academic and career mobility for students by eliminating artificial boundaries between institutions due to the credential levels an institution offers or the agency that accredits the institution or its program;
  • Provide greater flexibility for institutions to engage in innovative educational practices and meet local or national workforce needs; and,
  • Reward institutional value added, not student selectivity.

While not a part of the rulemaking process, POLITICO also convened a working group of what it called 17 “high powered” education leaders, business executives and policymakers and asked for their ideas on how to improve the higher education system. The group released its findings in Future of Prosperity: Ladders to Success, noting that, “Overall, the group agreed strongly that it’s high time to ‘disrupt’ higher education in America and that a number of promising new models are worth considering.”

The POLITICO working group agreed on a number of principles they believe should guide efforts to reconfigure America’s higher education system, including considering the education pathway as more than a straight line; thinking more about hands-on training outside the classroom; hiring for skills, not degrees; making credentials “stackable” and grants and loans more flexible; and looking for solutions that “scale.” The report goes on to consider the roles that employers, colleges and universities and the federal government all play in considering the best way to achieve better outcomes in higher education and workforce development.

higher ed, policy recommendations, education