Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Obama Budgets for Cut-Price Higher Study

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Obama Budgets for Cut-Price Higher Study

Article excerpt

President says that affordability must play a part in accreditation. Chris Parr writes.

Barack Obama aims to expose US colleges and universities to "competition from new, lower-cost, highly respectable entrants to the market", including online learning providers.

Observers detected a new higher education agenda in the US president's State of the Union address last week, in which he called on Congress to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are considered in determining which institutions are "accredited", allowing students to access federal financial aid.

"Taxpayers can't keep on subsidising higher and higher and higher costs for higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it's our job to make sure that they do," Mr Obama said.

In the policy document accompanying the address, titled The President's Plan for a Strong Middle Class and a Strong America, he says that either the current accreditation system should be reformed or a "new alternative system" should be developed, providing "pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results".

Elsewhere in his speech, the president unveiled an online "college scorecard" that will give prospective students information about an institution's costs and its students' graduation rate, loan default rate, average amount borrowed and employment outcomes.

Currently, the US operates a peer-review system to accredit universities, which means that the process by which institutions become eligible for federal student aid is owned by the institutions themselves.

Market forces

Andrew Kelly, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a US public policy thinktank, believes the system is outdated.

"It can be very difficult to get accreditors to sign off on some of the newer modes of credentialling - things like competency-based learning, indirect assessment, those sorts of things," he said, pointing out that some accreditation assessments take into account the number of books an institution has in its library.

Allowing students to access federal aid when they take approved low-cost courses, such as free online courses that charge fees for supervised exams, could be one way to drive down the cost of tuition, Mr Kelly said.

"Opening up markets to competitors in a targeted way . …

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