Mike Lee and the Conservative Plan to Expand Higher Education Opportunities

Today we frequently read the words “rising,” “college,” and “tuition” together in that depressing order in the news.  If education is so important, shouldn’t something be done to reverse that trend?  Is there anyone thinking outside the box?

Fortunately, the answer to both of those questions is “yes.”  Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) 100% has introduced an innovative bill, the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act, to increase higher education opportunities and decrease costs.  Sen. Lee, like the Heritage Foundation, has looked at a root cause of skyrocketing college costs and found it to be a bureaucratic accreditation process for colleges.  Currently, students are required to attend an accredited institution to be eligible for a student loan.  Additionally, the current accreditation system prevents individual courses from being accredited.

The Heritage Foundation’s education policy analyst Lindsey Burke praised the bill for the remedies it provides the flawed college accreditation system:

Decoupling federal financing (student aid) from accreditation, as the HERO Act does, is the type of policy reform that will enable the U.S. higher education system to keep pace with the demands of future economies. Allowing any entity a state designates the ability to accredit courses and educational options will infuse a level of competition in higher education that has been missing for decades.

Credentialing courses and acquired skills, not institutions, will be a far better reflection of the competencies valued by employers, will help bring down college costs, create a more flexible higher-ed experience for students, and bring down the barriers to entry for innovative start-ups. 

The bill would permit states, if they choose, to set up their own systems to accredit alternative institutions, programs, or courses.  It would free up the education system from the “iron triangle of regional accreditation organizations, the schools and federal bureaucrats,” as Sen. Lee explains.  He adds that the bill would “make it easier for students to customize their own education and gain the specific skills they need to compete in today’s economy.”

Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham praised Sen. Lee’s bill:

The HERO Act reforms the structure of higher education to empower students and their parents instead of bureaucrats and special interests in Washington.  By beginning to address the root cause of skyrocketing tuition, Senator Lee’s bill will create new opportunities for Americans eager to secure their piece of the American Dream.  We applaud Senator Lee for leading on this important issue and urge his colleagues to support this effort.

President Obama’s attempts to reduce the cost of higher education to date have been stale and ineffective, such as a deal struck this past July to peg interest rates on federal student loans to Washington’s cost of borrowing.  As Lindsey Burke noted at the time:

The deal on student loan interest rates does not fundamentally solve the college cost problem. Once again, the policy provides access to easy money for students, enabling universities to continue to raise tuition.

Liberal policies of spending more taxpayer money to subsidize student loans have been an ineffective way of reducing college costs.  Instead, conservatives are taking real steps to reduce the costs of getting an education in the first place by adapting the accreditation process for higher education to meet the needs of students and employers in 2014 and beyond.

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