Senate Proposal for Alternative Accreditation Path

October 1, 2015

Senator Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, and Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, this week introduced a bill that would create a new "outcomes-based" accreditation system. The proposed legislation, which builds on previous ideas from the two senators, would allow alternative education providers -- as well as traditional colleges and universities -- to access federal financial aid programs if they can meet a bar for high student outcomes. Those measures would include student learning, completion and return on investment.

"We need a new system that encourages, rather than hinders, innovation, promotes higher quality and shifts the focus to student success," Bennet said in a written statement. "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."

Rubio, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, has hammered on the current higher education accreditation system while speaking on the campaign trail, calling it a "cartel." The alternative system he and Bennet proposed, Rubio said, would be based on higher quality standards.

The bill would allow colleges and providers to bypass a wait to receive federal-aid eligibility while they seek accreditation, instead enabling them to enter into contracts with the U.S. Department of Education, but only if the institutions "are generating positive student outcomes."

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