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September 30, 2015

Bennet, Rubio Propose Alternative to Accreditation that Shifts Focus to Student Success

Bipartisan Bill Creates Pilot Program for Alternative Accreditation Process

Expands Programs Eligible to Receive Federal Student Aid

Washington, DC - U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) today introduced a bill to create a voluntary, alternative system of accreditation for American colleges and universities as well as other providers of higher education.

The Higher Education Innovation Act creates a new authorization pathway for accessing federal financial aid, such as Pell grants. Innovative schools that offer a high-quality education and have a proven track record of successfully helping students graduate, obtain jobs, and pay back their student loans could participate in this metrics-based authorization process in place of the burdensome input-focused accreditation process. The bill would also allow higher education providers that currently are ineligible to receive federal student aid to access federal financial aid if they demonstrate high student outcomes, including student learning, completion, and return on investment. Only schools that meet these high standards would be eligible for this authorization process.

"Higher education has never been more important for our kids and grandkids with more jobs than ever requiring a postsecondary degree or advanced training. But ‎the incentive structures in higher education are broken, focused too much on inputs and not enough on outcomes," Bennet said. "To succeed in today's economy, students need access to a great education that they complete and that successfully prepares them to succeed in the global job market. We need a new system that encourages, rather than hinders innovation, promotes higher quality, and shifts the focus to student success. The alternative outcomes-based process in this bill will help colleges, new models like competency-based education and innovative providers, and is an important step in shifting the current incentives and creating the 21st-century system of higher education we need."

"America needs a 21st century higher education system that embraces all the new ways people can learn and acquire skills without having to go the traditional four year college degree track," Rubio said. "To modernize our higher education system, we must end the status quo accreditation cartel that stifles competition, encourages soaring tuition costs and limits opportunities for non-traditional students, such as working parents. This alternative accreditation system we've proposed is built on higher quality standards and outcomes than the current accreditation system and would mark an important first step to shake up a higher education system that leaves too many people with tons of student loan debt and without degrees that lead to good paying jobs."

Currently, only students attending accredited institutions of higher education can receive federal student aid funds. The current process for accreditation can be complex and focus too heavily on inputs and process. This bill creates an alternative outcomes-based process that would allow students to use their federal aid at new providers and existing colleges and universities that demonstrate successful student outcomes and offer innovative and effective programs.

The bill would also create an innovative approach to financing higher education. Currently, higher education programs must exist for several years before they are eligible to apply to receive federal financial aid. The Bennet-Rubio proposal would allow new programs, including college and non-college providers, to enter into contracts with the U.S. Department of Education so long as they are generating positive student outcomes.

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