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Ron DeSantis Renews Call to Reform Higher Education Accreditation

November 13, 2017 - 6:00am
Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis

A conservative congressman from Florida who is a possible gubernatorial candidate has brought back his proposal to get higher education accreditation out of the hands of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and give that power to the states.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., brought back his “Higher Education Reform and Opportunity (HERO)" Act in the House. DeSantis first introduced the bill back in early 2015 as U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, championed it in the Senate. 

The bill would allow the state governments to create their own accreditation bodies for higher education instead of relying on the federal DOE which currently recognizes the various regional and national accrediting bodies. The sponsors insisted their bill would not impact the current accrediting bodies.

Colleges, universities, trade schools and other postsecondary institutions rely on accreditation from DOE-recognized bodies so they can offer federally-backed financial aid.

In recent years, DeSantis has maintained that giving that power to the states would lower costs for students while promoting opportunity and innovation in higher education.

“The opportunity that higher education provides should not be limited to the lecture halls of brick-and-ivy universities,” DeSantis said when he brought back the bill last week. “The need to acquire advanced knowledge and skills beyond high school has never been greater, yet it has probably never been clearer that four-year universities are not the only way to acquire such skills. Too many of our students are being underserved by the iron triangle of accreditation bodies, universities, and the Department of Education, which prioritizes four year degrees over practical skills while putting an upward pressure on tuition. Giving states the ability to innovate will make it possible for students to use Title IV funds in pursuit of a wide-range of educational approaches at potentially a fraction of the cost.”

Lee and DeSantis penned a piece at National Review in March 2015 making the case for the HERO Act.

“The current cartel of higher education has locked out nontraditional students and driven costs ever higher,” Lee and DeSantis wrote. “By opening up our nations higher-education system to competitively priced alternative programs, traditional institutions would have to re-examine the pricing schemes that have led to the explosion of student-loan debt. Fostering choices outside of the current education model will spur competition and encourage schools to lower costs -- benefiting all students. Our legislation is a simple, conservative reform to higher education that will shift power closer to the states and benefit millions of future students. It is time that we take this simple step toward ensuring a more prosperous future.”

DeSantis reeled in 17 cosponsors including fellow Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Neal Dunn, Francis Rooney, Dan Webster and Ted Yoho. The bill was sent to the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee. 

With Gov. Rick Scott facing term limits next year, DeSantis has garnered attention as a possible candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. DeSantis ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012 but dropped out of the race when, at the last moment, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., decided to seek a second term 

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