Administration Seeks to Use Federal Student Aid and Accreditation to Control Tuition and Student Outcomes
In its policy plan released after the State of the Union message, the Obama Administration intends to leverage federal student aid and the accreditation process to control the price of tuition and student outcomes in higher education. The release--"The President's Plan for a Strong Middle Class & Strong America"--consists of eight pages of bullet points on initiatives of the second term.
On higher education, the plan seeks to link "value, affordability, and student outcomes . . . [to] determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid." This will be done either by "incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system[,] or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation . . . [for receipt of] federal student aid based on performance and results." The plan re-opens the issue of the reach of the federal government into historically non-governmental functions.
At the K-12 level, when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) did not get reauthorized, the Administration proceeded to issue legally questionable conditional waivers. Just last week Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions questioned the authority for the conditions in a hearing on waivers.
Whether executive action will be invoked to force changes in tuition or a school's eligibility for Title IV student aid remains an open question. Colleges, universities, and accreditors should remain alert.