Starbucks made news this week by announcing The College Achievement Plan, a partnership the coffee giant has entered into with Arizona State University in order for the company to help employees complete their bachelor’s degrees by providing full tuition reimbursement.
Freshmen and sophomores who work at least 20 hours per week can receive partial scholarships from Starbucks, and juniors and seniors have their entire tuition costs paid for by the company.
This is one way the private sector can get at the issue of making sure students acquire skills valued by employers. While the announcement certainly helps those students receiving scholarships, in order to get to the root of the problem—ever-increasing college costs—policy reforms must be enacted to infuse more competition in higher education.
“A combination of increased access to online learning, portability of student loans, and a market-based, private accreditation system could produce dramatic changes in the higher education structure and ultimately drive down costs while improving quality,” Heritage explained in a report on accreditation in 2012.
That type of reform is embodied in policy proposals introduced by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla. The congressmen have introduced the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act, which would enable states to allow any entity to credential courses (including non-profits and businesses).
Importantly, the proposal would also allow individual courses to be credentialed. The existing accreditation system confers accreditation only to degree-granting institutions. Decoupling federal financing (student loans and grants) from accreditation, and allowing that funding to follow students to individual courses, holds the potential to infuse a tremendous amount of flexibility into higher education, and would enable students to have a much more customized college experience.
Decoupling federal financing from accreditation breaks down barriers throughout the entire higher education system. Under the Lee and DeSantis proposal, states would be empowered to allow companies, non-profits, universities, and other entities to put their own credentials, or “seals of approval,” on individual courses. Student aid would then follow a student to those individual classes.
Higher education needs dramatic reform in order to increase access for students while driving-down college costs. The existing accreditation system stands as a barrier to such reform. Congress should consider policy proposals to reform federal higher education financing in a way that places greater emphasis on credentialing specific courses and skills—not institutions.
Starbucks’ announcement is another indicator that higher education is ripe for change. Accreditation reform is a critical component of that reform and is key to ultimately driving down college costs so that students don’t have to turn to the government for loans and grants, and employers, while generous, don’t have to spend revenue on inflated college costs.
Originally posted on See Thru EDU.