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Policy expert argues America’s higher education system is ‘rigged against students’

As college freshmen enter campuses this fall, the scales aren’t necessarily tilted in their favor.

That’s argument David Barnes, policy director of Generation Opportunity, makes in a recent article published by RealClearEducation. Barnes asserts students are entering a system “rigged against” them.

From the article:

Millennials today face tuition and fees three times higher than their parents did in the ‘70s and ‘80s, adjusting for inflation. Skyrocketing costs are forcing students to borrow money at historic levels. Nationwide, Americans owe more than $1.4 trillion in student debt – double what they owed in 2009.

With the rise in tuition rates and student debt showing no sign of slowing, it might seem as if our nation’s higher education system is rigged against the very students it is designed to serve. In fact, it is.

Barnes puts part of the blame for this gloomy situation on a “powerful cartel of college accreditors” that is responsible for “stifling competition, driving up tuition costs and limiting the options available to students.”

He explains these accreditors are enabled by the federal government because federal law requires that colleges and universities must earn accreditation from the members of the “powerful cartel” to be awarded federal grants and financial aid.

Barnes essentially argues this type of accreditation holds higher education hostage from being able to adapt to the market and from creating new, robust options for earning a college degree:

Millennials are a forward-looking generation that believes in the power of innovation to transform our lives for the better, and we bring the same attitude to education. A 2013 study found that about 50 percent of students believe that online colleges are reputable and that they don’t need a physical classroom to learn. Another 39 percent said the future of education will be more virtual.

But innovating the college experience is next to impossible under our current, bureaucratic accreditation regime. By law, only degree-issuing academic institutions are eligible for accreditation. That places innovative new learning options like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at a distinct disadvantage.

As a solution to this problem, Barnes suggests Congress give state officials the “authority to approve accreditors on their own.”

“This reform would open up new educational possibilities to students who aren’t well served by the traditional college system, such as working parents who lack the time to take more than one course simultaneously,” he writes.

Read the full article.

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