The imperative of higher-education reform: More debt, fewer jobs

Unfortunately, the innovative spirit of university laboratories has not always spilled over into the operation of these same institutions. Our higher-education system must be built around a dynamic and innovative core that relentlessly pursues new ideas, progress, and success. Online enrollment has opened doors to millions of new students, helping to increase not only access to education but also the number of students completing a degree. New forms of instructional delivery promise to provide access to new generations of students, which will be crucial to our future economic success. Government policies, however, have not embraced differentiated modes of delivery. Ill-advised regulation imposed by the Obama Administration, such as the so-called “Gainful Employment” rule, has made it even harder for some providers to operate while distorting their incentives.

Rather than adding complicated and unnecessary regulations, the federal government should allow consumers in the market to make their own choices while providing the information to make those choices well. This will encourage institutions to seek quality improvements, rather than to create risk mitigation strategies to avoid federal penalties.

For example, competence and skills drive our economy, yet our higher-education system awards degrees based on the amount of time spent in the classroom regardless of how quickly or slowly an individual masters the material.

The current emphasis on time to degree, rather than measured competency, discourages more innovative learning solutions and continues the frustration of employers who are unable to fill high-skilled positions. Forcing students to complete a fixed term of study also drives up the costs for those who might need less time, while graduating those who have not yet obtained market-ready skills. Federal regulations and aid rules must change to facilitate instead of obstruct models that recognize and address this reality.

(Excerpted from “A Chance for Every Child: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Restoring the Promise of American Education.”)