Co-Sponsorship of the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity (HERO) Act of 2017 (H.R. 4274)

The Higher Education Reform and Opportunity (HERO) Act (H.R. 4274), introduced by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), would empower states with the option to develop their own systems of accrediting colleges and universities, individual courses and curricula, and apprenticeship programs. The HERO Act would decouple federal financing from accreditation so that federal dollars follow the student, not the institution, unleashing new and innovative approaches to higher education in the 21st century economy.

The bill would also increase transparency in participating institutions by requiring key student loan data reporting while also holding institutions partly accountable for student loan defaults. Finally, the HERO Act would better steward taxpayer dollars and increase accountability in future student loan decisions by phasing out federal loan forgiveness and repayment programs.   

The current and outdated accreditation system administered by the U.S Department of Education (ED) creates a higher education cartel that locks out innovation and competition, resulting in higher costs and less choice for students and their families. Lindsey Burke, Director of the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation, describes the damaging effects of accreditation in her 2012 report Accreditation: Removing the Barrier to Higher Education Reform:

“With regard to colleges and universities, accreditation has become, first and foremost, a barrier to entry. Indeed, the accreditation system has morphed into a powerful and rigid system whereby a few large regional and national accrediting agencies have a tremendous amount of power over higher education. This system, in turn, creates massive and expensive headaches for existing colleges and universities; crowds out new higher education start-ups; and creates an inflexible and questionable college experience for students who, in order to be eligible for federal student aid, have little choice but to attend accredited institutions.”

Acknowledging this higher education monopoly and its effect on the current U.S. worker’s skills gap, Rep. DeSantis writes:

“In today’s economy, Americans need access to skills that current colleges are not providing at affordable prices. In the tradition of America’s proud history of innovation, I believe Congress should welcome a free marketplace that offers bold post-secondary education options. Students should be able to obtain education in a variety of environments–on campus and online, in classrooms and offices, with traditional courses and alternatives.”

The HERO Act would allow states to work with a variety of educational institutions, nonprofits, and even businesses to accredit high-quality alternative education programs and individual courses so students are equipped with directly applicable skillsets employers are looking for and our global competitive workforce demands. Heritage Foundation policy analysts Jamie Hall and Mary Clare Amselem make the case for higher education reform clear:

“With outstanding student loan debt now exceeding $1.4 trillion and another $1.3 trillion in new federal student loans expected to be originated in the next 10 years students and taxpayers have much to gain from accreditation reforms that increase learning options and lower costs.”

Any changes to the Higher Education Act of 1965 should incorporate the much-needed reforms outlined in the HERO Act.  

***Heritage Action supports the HERO Act (H.R. 4274) and will include CO-SPONSORSHIP of this legislation in our scorecard.***