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Trump Administration to Deregulate Higher Education Standards

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In a move to deregulate government standards on higher education, the Trump administration announced on Monday that it will be establishing a rule-making subcommittee and a broad plan to develop new definitions on how schools are accredited, issue education standard measures, accept students and more.

This is the first affirmation of a plan on higher education from the Department of Education since inauguration and a wave of cutback on Obama-era regulations.

In its boldest, and likely most controversial step, the department is moving to allow higher education institutions to set their own standards on what counts as a credit, a measure of education earned, instead of the government doing so. This comes at a time when alumni are suing for-profit colleges like DeVry University for false promises on what their education would allow them to achieve after graduation.

Credit inflation, which is when universities overstate how much college credit is worth based on a standard of education in order to get more federal aid, was meant to be capped by 2010 Obama administration regulation across the board, but for-profits often escaped it by using alternative college credit systems.

The credit hour probably interferes with innovation almost more than anything,” Principal education under secretary and assistant secretary for education Diane Auer Jones said in statement. “I think most educators believe we should go back to way we did it for 100 years where institutions determine what the credit hour should be and justify it to their accreditor.”

In addition, the Administration is looking to overhaul rules on how colleges are accredited on the basis of function, religious classification and more.

Jones said, “Accreditation is right at the crux of almost everything you do in higher ed.”

“We’re looking at every aspect of accreditation and saying, ‘Does this make sense?” she continued, stating that the goal is not to give accreditors free reign, but to foster an environment of innovation.

Federal agencies have been criticized by lawmakers and the public for their inability to provide reasonable oversight over graduation rates, loan repayment systems and for-profit colleges.

Yet Jones said, “We need to have the back of our accreditors” in stating that simplification will allow for freer movement and change in local regulations on colleges. The goal is to better define oversight roles and to ensure that accreditors and state and federal regulators have clearly defined roles and focus on their core strengths, according to Jones. 

Nolan Cabrera, Associate Professor in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona says, “This is a bold-faced giveaway for the Administration to finance the for-profit education sector.”

He argued that federal cutbacks to for-profits would be reversed for the sake of administration constituents and for-profit boards lobbying for free reign in higher education. “The point is to deregulate, and we saw how that did during the stock market collapse.”

Cabrera said by deregulating the credit hour system and creating new, looser rules on what colleges will receive federal funding, that the seeker of higher education will be bombarded with misinformation and predatory practices by for-profit institutes that make promises on employment opportunities through their programs.

Minimal employers count these degrees as valid. “They’re taking advantage of a market as employment numbers for (individuals with) these degrees are nothing to write home about,” Cabrera said.

The department is also looking to loosen regulations on transfer students, but keep regulations in place for the amount of credits transferred from an online or outside institution to another.

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