New Bill Proposes Changes to College Accreditation System

US Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) presented a new bill on higher education reform, accusing the current federal loan system and accreditation of being too political and controlling.

"Restrictive policies artificially narrow America's path into the middle class and into economic opportunity," Lee said at The Heritage Foundation on Monday. "In effect, the federal government today operates a kind of higher education cartel — federally approved accreditors act as a gatekeeper to keep unwanted providers out of the market."

The Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act of 2013 (S.1904) would amend federal law and allow states to generate similar accreditation systems that would expand higher education options for federal student loans. Poking fun at President Barack Obama, Lee promised college presidents that "if they like their regional accreditor, they can keep their regional accreditor," but added that his promise was sincere. He declared that the bill would "offer new opportunities for higher education."

According to Tyler O'Neil, reporter for the Christian Post, Lee stated that in America's "information economy"  college education is too important to be blocked by barriers, and that the current rules do not protect students as much as they protect colleges from competition.

Lee explained that under his plan and under state accreditation, the higher education market in America would become more diverse and that states could work with businesses to tailor-make classes and certifications that industries are looking for in new workers.

"Imagine computer courses accredited by Apple or Google, Dow could accredit a chemistry program, Boeing could craft its own ‘aerospace engineering' major," the senator said. He continued by saying that churches and other organizations could offer nearly free courses as part of a mission program and that professionals could teach college-level classes as a form of volunteering.

"Non-profit groups like The US Historical Society, or The Sierra Club, or The Mayo Clinic, could accredit programs in their respective fields for competency-measuring exams," the senator said. States could expand the options for higher education outside the traditional college atmosphere, even onto hand-held devices via Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Lee said there were three conservative goals that this bill would achieve. He said it would "protect the new market from the cronyism that almost inevitably targets centralized power," allow "competitive federalism to work its magic, just as the Founding Fathers always intended," and that "it will preserve and reward what does work at America's colleges and universities."

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