As conservatives consider ways to crash through the growing choke hold that college degrees have held in employers’ hiring processes, one idea that has gained currency is allowing federal student aid to follow students to unaccredited providers of education.1 Conservatives have also shown interest in funding competency-based programs—in which students earn credentials for exhibiting mastery of knowledge and skills, not because of the time they attend an institution.
Even as they create space for innovation in higher education, conservatives should be wary of simply writing a blank check to new entities and programs absent some accountability around the value delivered.
Accreditation—today’s answer for traditional colleges and universities—is a poor model to extend to unaccredited providers for two reasons. First, accreditors focus on inputs, such as the pedigree of who teaches students, instead of value in assessing the quality of an institution. Second, accreditors suffer from a conflict of interest because they are membership organizations that act as gatekeepers to the federal financial aid their members are eligible to receive.