Are Republicans going the wrong way on higher ed reform?

There’s a mounting push from Congressional Republicans (and some Democrats, possibly including Pres. Obama) to “break” the current accreditation system for higher education, to try to make college more affordable and more useful. Slate’s Jordan Weissman has a new piece out on the various efforts, titled The Dangerous Conservative Idea for Making College Cheaper. I think this article is on the right track and appropriately nuanced in its evaluation, despite the hardline headline:

Any conversation about fixing our broken accreditation system needs to think about both sides of the equation: making room for new ideas and pushing out bad ones. Right now, the majority of politicians are focused mostly on the first half, which should worry us all. You can talk about smashing the cartel all you want. But I’m not sure anybody would be happy with what might take its place.

There are some definite problems with the system as-is, but the solutions being pitched (by Republicans especially) are mostly off-base — such as ditching any system of regulation or quality control altogether, instead of fixing it — with some buried potential within them.

For example, it would actually be really interesting if major corporations could design apprenticeship-style programs that teach a transferable skills base useful to working in that industry (that company as well as the wider field) and have those programs being recognized in some way similar to a bachelor’s degree. But, again, that doesn’t require dismantling the entire accreditation system.

That said, I think the accreditation system does need to be dramatically shaken up to deal with the for-profit scam-school menace, which they’ve really let slide.

Additionally, I think that there’s some merit to the idea of reforming the financial aid system (though not the Republican way) to make sure it’s actually going to people who need it to go to school at all and that it’s purchasing a valuable education for those students. At the moment, it seems more geared toward handing out aid to upper-ish middle class kids (who will at least go to some college with or without financial aid) to help them pay for luxury name-brand schools instead of cheaper schools, and that’s allowing colleges to jack up everyone’s degree costs, given the inflated supply of available money to purchase them. In the same vein, we need to invest a lot more into the public higher education system to make those degrees both affordable to all and of exemplary and recognized quality.