Center for American Progress

RELEASE: New CAP Report Highlights Vision for an Alternative Gatekeeping System for Federal Financial Aid
Press Release

RELEASE: New CAP Report Highlights Vision for an Alternative Gatekeeping System for Federal Financial Aid

Washington, D.C. — The dual needs for increased innovation and consumer protection in higher education mean it’s time to create an alternative form of college accreditation that focuses on a simpler, more rigorous way of assuring college quality. A new report released today by the Center for American Progress outlines a vision for an alternative, complementary gatekeeping system for granting access to federal financial aid, which currently totals more than $120 billion per year. The report was unveiled at an event today featuring U.S. Department of Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell alongside a host of higher education and accreditation experts.

“Granting access to federal financial aid can expand innovative opportunities for educational providers and students,” said Ben Miller, Senior Director for Postsecondary Education at CAP and co-author of the report. “Our alternative vision lays out a responsible way of balancing protecting students with greater flexibility for new innovative forms of learning after high school.”

“Under the alternative approach we propose, educational providers would need to meet high bars, set by independent third parties, for both student achievement and financial health. Providers could not slide by on outcomes as some do today,” said David A. Bergeron, co-author of the report and Senior Fellow at CAP.

The alternative accreditation system outlined by CAP would act as a complementary competitor to the current process of granting access to federal financial aid and centers around three activities that would encourage and protect innovation in higher education, while protecting students and taxpayers. It would judge educational providers on rigorous measures of student outcomes and financial health to open up federal aid for new providers while reducing the burden on existing high-performing institutions that choose to participate; use third parties to act as standard setters by determining outcome measures and performance thresholds; and finally, put the federal government in charge of verifying whether educational providers meet required outcomes measures, granting or removing access to federal aid, and selecting third-party standard setters.

More specifically, educational providers seeking to participate under the new alternative structure would have to meet rigorous and ambitious standards for student achievement and financial health—including the student completion rate, job placement rate, graduate earnings, and federal loan repayment rate—and the standards, including the measures used and necessary benchmarks for participation, would be set by independent third parties and could vary by type of program. The federal government would handle data definition, collection, and verification, as well as enforcement of the standards, and the U.S. Department of Education would also regularly monitor the system to determine if the standards produce a high enough bar for institutional performance.

As CAP’s report notes, the creation of a streamlined, outcomes-focused alternative system for granting access to federal aid dollars can play a key role in solving pressing challenges in postsecondary education. A greater focus on results can push schools to improve on measures related to completion, quality, and ensuring that graduates have the necessary skills to succeed and can afford to repay their student loans. CAP’s alternative accreditation proposal focuses on results rather than the process to get there, thus ensuring more protection for students. This focus on results—not inputs—also encourages innovation, leaving providers free to experiment with new ways of teaching and learning, particularly for nontraditional students.

Click here to read “A Quality Alternative: A New Vision for Higher Education Accreditation” by Ben Miller, David A. Bergeron, and Carmel Martin.

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at [email protected] or 202.478.6331.