GOP bill allows states to accredit colleges

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced a bill Thursday that he said would provide low-income and middle-class families with more higher education options.

The Higher Education Reform and Opportunity (HERO) Act would allow states to develop their own systems of accrediting educational institutions, apprenticeships, programs and courses. Under the bill, all accredited programs would be eligible to receive federal student loan money.

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“The Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act would not only make the cost of higher education more affordable, but also make it easier for students to customize their own education and gain the specific skills they need to compete in today’s economy,” Lee said.

Lee’s bill would allow for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations to receive the federal student loan dollars if they were offering courses. The bill would also cover states’ administrative costs associated with setting the accreditation system up.

Currently, the Department of Education accredits postsecondary institutions to protect consumers from spending tuition money and taxpayer funded loans on a program that won’t lead to a job. Proponents of the existing system say it is better to have a degree from a nationally accredited institution for the sake of mobility and to compete in a global market.

Lee said the HERO Act does not replace the current accreditation system but would allow states to set up their own systems to accredit alternative institutions. He said each proposal would have to be approved by the secretary of Education.

Lee blamed the lack of accredited choices for the rising cost of college tuition.

“Our current higher education system is controlled by the iron triangle of regional accreditation organizations, the schools and federal bureaucrats,” Lee said. “The result is the exploding cost of higher education, which either prevents students from getting the educational experience they need or forces them to take on unnecessarily large amounts of debt.”