Prepared Remarks by Secretary DeVos to the American Council on Education

Prepared Remarks by Secretary DeVos to the American Council on Education

December 19, 2018

Thank you, Ted Mitchell, for that kind introduction and for hosting Diane Jones and me this morning.

I'm really looking forward to our conversation, but before we begin, I want to make one thing clear: I believe American higher education is the envy of the world. Thank you for the contributions you have each made to make it so. But in order to keep it that way, there are a few challenges to address.

Like all of education, higher education is due for a rethink.

Right now, there are over seven million unfilled jobs in the United States as yesterday's "blue collar" jobs become today's "blue tech" jobs. And looking ahead, consider the reality that "around 85 percent of the jobs that today's learners will be doing in 2030 haven't been invented yet."

With a growing economy with record-low unemployment, many employers report they still can't find enough qualified people to hire because there are many disconnects between education and the economy.

We know that higher education is about more than job training, but let's be honest: almost every student who earns a degree expects some kind of future in the labor market.

Too many students are unprepared for successful careers today and tomorrow. And too many are treated more like commodities instead of as the individuals they are, each with unique abilities and aspirations.

So by "rethink," I mean this: everyone question everything to ensure nothing limits students from being prepared for what comes next.

So, who is "everyone"? Everyone is everyone. Students themselves. Students of every age. Parents. Grandparents. Educators. Faith leaders. Administrators. Business leaders. Servicemen and women. Community leaders. Workers of every kind. Elected officials. And it's every one of you.

And what is "everything"? Well, everything is everything. Where, when, how, what, and why we do things today—and everything about what we could or should do.

We must expand our 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.

At the Department of Education, we are taking a number of steps to ensure that institutions and innovators are empowered to implement new ideas, to fill the many gaps between education and the economy.

The current accreditation system, for instance, is costly, it favors the status quo, and it stymies competition. And much of this is because the Department has overstepped and inserted itself into the work that Congress assigned to accreditors and institutions.

As we "rethink" accreditation, there are a number of questions that need to be answered:

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?

We will pursue answers to those questions and more in January when we launch an ambitious negotiated rulemaking effort. We aim to restore shared responsibility in higher education oversight and to encourage new approaches and new partnerships.

That process is a lengthy one, so in the meantime we are moving on a few measures that don't need an act of Congress or negotiated rulemaking.

For instance, we are working to address the recommendations in the excellent Report from Senator Alexander's Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education. We are reducing the verification burden. We are removing outdated or harmful guidance known as "Dear Colleague Letters." We are also limiting the use of any new guidance. The Department doesn't make law; it implements it.

We're updating the guidebook to make accreditor recognition less burdensome and more focused on what matters to students.

We are also creating a tool to better share information and facilitate cooperation between the Department and accreditors.

And we are making clear that all accreditors are accountable to the same standards, and therefore all should be seen as equals in the evaluation of educational quality.

Ultimately, our focus is on students, lifelong learners of all ages who want successful careers and meaningful lives. Let's keep students—our country's future—at the center of every conversation and everything we do.