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Earlier this month, US President Obama held his yearly State of the Union address. Accreditation of US higher education was not among the issues raised in the address, but preschool and secondary education, as well as accreditation in higher education, figured prominently in a nine-page supplemental document entitled The President’s Plan for a Strong Middle Class and a Strong America. The President’s accreditation plans took almost everybody by surprise.
Obama is worried by the burden student aid represents to US tax payers. Even though direct grant and loan aid for students has been raised considerably in his first term in office, and now stands at about USD 150 billion (EUR 114 billion), the cost of higher education has increased faster, threatening to exclude parts of the middle and the lower classes. To fight this danger, Obama wants colleges and universities to become less expensive. For this purpose, “the President will call on Congress to consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation (…) based on performance and results.”
Reactions to the proposal were mixed. While almost everybody acknowledges the need to rein in the costs of higher education, the present peer-based accreditation system is not easily reconcilable with an accreditation system that might de facto have to be run by the Department of Education.