Torn paper revealing the words "let's rethink" as schools try to empower students

21 ways to empower students, innovators, and institutions

A new DoE whitepaper outlines student-centered reform goals

Higher education is long overdue for a refresh–and that refresh could be achieved by moving to empower students, institutions, and innovators, according to a new whitepaper.

In the face of increasing costs and deeper questions about higher ed’s purpose, the Department of Education in December issued a whitepaper outlining student-centered reform goals pertaining to a variety of issues, including academic and career mobility, constructing accountability measures, and expanding student aid.

The DoE is looking for institutions, innovators, entrepreneurs, educators, and students who can create and advance student-centered reforms that empower students and other key stakeholder groups.

In prepared remarks at the end of 2018, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos noted that “higher education is due for a rethink.”

Exploring student-centered reform

DeVos said the nation should expand its thinking “about what education actually is, as well as resist the urge to expect all students to follow the same track. There should be many pathways because there are many types of students with many different interests and many kinds of opportunities with varying requirements.”

There are several questions to be answered during this “rethink,” DeVos said:

  • Which parts of the Department’s accreditation regulations and guidance are directly related to educational quality and student experience?
  • Which are ambiguous, repetitious, or unnecessarily burdensome?
  • How do we clarify the roles and responsibilities of each entity within the higher education “triad?”
  • How can every higher ed institution embrace and support innovation and do so without exposing students and taxpayers to unreasonable risk?
  • Can the Department provide more support and information to accreditors to help them do their jobs more effectively?
  • Has the Department or National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity become too prescriptive with regard to student achievement? Are there better options we should explore?

Students should be empowered to select a postsecondary option that best serves their interests, develops their talents, prepares them to be productive citizens, offers a pathway to employment and career advancement, and doesn’t cause them to carry crippling debt. Principles of how to empower students:

  1. Provide greater options and opportunities for intellectual discovery, career preparation, and lifelong learning
  2. Respect the many goals that students bring to postsecondary education and evaluate success relative to those goals
  3. Enable academic and career mobility, including through common sense transfer-of-credit policies, restrictions on needless credential inflation, and unnecessary licensure and certification barriers
  4. Prepare students to meet the responsibilities of citizenship in a growing, dynamic, and diverse nation
  5. Ensure that students learn in a safe environment and that their schools provide them with due process protections when they are accused of wrong-doing
  6. Enable students to make decisions as adults and not unduly limit the options available to them
  7. Improve access to federal student aid, simplify student loan repayment, and emphasize personal responsibility in making informed borrowing decisions

Institutions should be empowered to serve their independent missions, experiment with new solutions, and meet the unique needs of their students while also battling the idea that exclusivity equals high quality:

  1. Provide regulatory relief by removing overreaching regulatory burdens, revising costly or ambiguous regulations, and providing a greater understanding of Department expectations concerning regulatory compliance
  2. Carefully construct accountability measures that take into account the unique mission of an institution and the needs and goals of its students
  3. Ensure that accreditors evaluate institutional quality in the context of the students an institution serves and the institution’s unique mission
  4. Enable institutions to limit student borrowing
  5. Ensure that institutions are treated fairly and afforded due process rights while at the same time taking quick action against institutions that engage in deceptive practices
  6. Reward institutional value-added rather than student selectivity
  7. Provide for the fair treatment of institutions with religious missions

Innovators can feel empowered to contribute new ideas and advance evidence-based solutions to ensure that American postsecondary education is delivering a world-class education for this generation and the next:

  1. Establish additional Experimental Sites to examine innovative delivery and accountability measures
  2. Provide for the fair treatment of both distance education and “brick-and-mortar” education
  3. Promote customized learning through competency-based education, direct assessment, and work-based learning models
  4. Expand student aid to include short-term programs that meet the needs of lifelong learners
  5. Reform the accreditation system to promote change and innovation, to allow accrediting agencies to accommodate educational innovation, and to reduce the cost of quality assurance
  6. Enable institutions to integrate programs developed and delivered by non-accredited providers into their accredited, Title IV eligible programs
  7. Identify new ways to expedite approvals for new programs and program modifications in order to keep pace with changing technologies and employer demands

Laura Ascione

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