Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced legislation that will reduce student debt by reforming higher education accreditation, according to a Thursday press release.
The bill, titled the Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act of 2016, will grant the U.S. Department of Education more power to hold accreditors responsible in order to help students access more affordable higher education.
“This bill gives the Education Department more tools to hold accreditors accountable, increases accreditors’ focus on student outcomes and affordability, and requires accreditors to respond when there is evidence of colleges committing fraud,” Warren said in the release.
College accreditation agencies are responsible for handling tens of billions of dollars a year in student aid investments from the federal government, but accreditors have not been responsible with this money, and have even allowed fraudulent colleges to collect money at the expense of students, according to a fact sheet about Warren’s bill.
“Right now the accreditation system is broken,” Warren said in the release.
Natalie Higgins, the executive director at the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, said that holding accrediting agencies responsible for their oversights could help make higher education more affordable.
“There are definitely predatory, for-profit schools out there that are targeting specific under-served populations and actually taking advantage of them and the system,” Higgins said. “They should not be getting accredited in the same way that our public system is getting accredited.”
Massachusetts students are more likely to take out larger financial aid loans, especially those who go to public schools, according to Higgins.
“We’re at a really significant disadvantage when nine out of 10 public college students stay in Massachusetts after graduation because that student debt is staying here,” Higgins said. “That’s not necessarily happening with private college students, who often move right back out of the state after they came here for college.”
Higgins explained that people who did not have access to higher education are at a disadvantage later in their lives, as those with college degrees earn better wages and have more job stability.
“We know that graduates with a two-year degree or a four-year degree have a better chance of remaining employed,” Higgins said.
While Massachusetts and the national government both take pride in their education systems, the public higher education system leaves much to be desired, Higgins said.
“We pride ourselves on being a leader in education and that should extend beyond the K-through-12 system,” Higgins said. “We should be a leader in public higher education as well.”
Several Boston residents said that they think Massachusetts students are at a disadvantage when it comes to higher education.
Angie Mayorga, 25, of Brighton, who worked in the higher education industry, said that she thinks students from middle class families miss out the most when it comes to higher education.
“[Middle class students] are not given grants because their families make too much money, but when you really look at it, at the end of the day after paying bills, the families can’t afford to send their kids to college,” she said.
Katherine Petteys, 31, of Allston, who attended an undergraduate college and graduate school in Massachusetts, said her education was not affordable.
“It’s hard to work and go to school at the same time and pay it off in a timely manner without having loans hanging over your head for years,” she said.
Neil Kayah, 58, of Roxbury, said he also understands the financial burden today’s college students have to face.
“Either you’re from a wealthy family, or you’re a genius and you got all straight A’s and you got a scholarship, or you’re an athlete and schools will do anything for you,” he said. “But for your average person that goes to school and has working parents, it’s difficult … Kids are graduating today with backbreaking amounts of debt.”