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Market innovation, not government regulations, are the key to keeping college costs down

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"Over the last month," President Obama said in Buffalo, N.Y., on Thursday, "I've been out there talking about what we need to do as a country to make sure that we've to a better bargain for the middle class and everybody who's working hard to get into the middle class."

"A higher education is the single best investment in you future," Obama continued. Keion Stella agrees.

Apple, Google and WalMart didn't revolutionize their industries by running to government regulators to get permission for every new business model or product they wanted to try. They just did it.

Stella, the second youngest of five brothers, was raised in a single parent home in Roanoke, Alabama. He was the only one of his siblings to finish high school, although he has since encouraged all of his siblings to go back and get their G.E.D.s.

Now living in Warren, Ohio, with a son of his own, Stella wanted to improve his own life and his son's opportunities. But as a single parent with a full-time job, his options were limited.

But then along came Ivy Bridge of Tiffin University, an online community college partnered with the traditional four-year institution Tiffin University and designed to help traditionally underserved students like Stella access higher education.

A new model for higher education, Ivy Bridge made Stella's academic success more likely by providing both intensive one-on-one support and seamless transfer to over 150 traditional four-year institutions, including Arizona State, George Mason University, and the affiliated Tiffin University.

Stella completed his associate's degree this May and is scheduled to begin Tiffin this January. He was so satisfied with the program that he convinced his ex-wife, one of his brothers, and two of his colleagues to sign up.

But none of them will be getting the same support and access to automatic transfers that Stella did. That is because the government-empowered bureaucrats who control Tiffin's accreditation, the Higher Learning Commission, gave Tiffin a choice: either shut down Ivy Bridge entirely, or your own accreditation will be at risk. Tiffin chose to shut down Ivy Bridge.

HLC claims they shut down Ivy Bridge down due to poor academics. HLC President Sylvia Manning even called the school "a bridge to nowhere."

But the data don't support Manning's claims. Complete College America, an independent nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to higher education, found that, while the average community college only has a 27.8 percent two-year success rate (success meaning graduation or transfer to a higher school), more than 64 percent of Ivy Bridge students succeeded by that measure.

Asked for his response to Manning's assessment of Ivy Bridge, Stella told the Washington Examiner, "That's a lie. Since graduating I've gotten two promotions because of that associates degree. They have helped so many people."

Stella says his two promotions came with raises that have increased his salary by almost 50 percent. Ivy Bridge was a great investment in Stella's future.

Unfortunately, the higher education plan Obama outlined yesterday only further empowers bureaucrats like Manning and the HLC and makes it harder for innovators like Ivy Bridge.

Asked about the new government ratings system at the core of Obama's higher education plan, an administrator at an East Coast state school dismissively told the Examiner, "Just another layer of BS standards we have to conform to."

The fact sheet accompanying Obama's higher education plan does promise "regulatory waivers" for "experimental sites" that promote "high-quality, low-cost innovations in higher education."

But higher education reformers, whether they be for-profit or non-profit, shouldn't have to rely on grants of regulatory abeyance to experiment. Apple, Google and WalMart didn't revolutionize their industries by running to government regulators to get permission for every new business model or product they wanted to try. They just did it.

And that is why Obama's higher education reforms will fail. They rely on government, not the market, to drive change.

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