The measure would direct accreditors “to develop an expedited process by which new and innovative institutions that agree to enhanced oversight can earn accreditation prior to enrolling their first students.” That approval, as the measure’s proponents imagine it, would not grant access to federal financial aid as full-blown accreditation does, but it would give a stamp of authority to providers before they enroll a single student.
Under the current accreditation system, schools need to operate for a few years before going through the peer-review process. This makes sense in theory, but in practice it makes it difficult for new schools—particularly schools trying out new educational approaches—to attract funding and students. Kerrey and Nelson hope to lower the barriers to entry for new programs and thus encourage innovation. Leaving financial aid out of the equation would likely ease passage.This proposal comes on the heels of President Obama’s suggestion, in his most recent State of the Union address, that Congress should reform the college accreditation system by “incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing” system, or by devising a new system altogether.Without getting into the specifics of the Kerrey/Nelson proposal, higher ed could certainly benefit from more experimentation. It’s no panacea, but expanding accreditation for alternative programs looks like a good place to start.[Mortar boards image courtesy of Shutterstock]