Andy Smarick writes for the Martin Center about a “new-schools” strategy to improve higher education.

It would be easy to conclude, after a quick look at some topline findings about higher education in recent years, that a set of misguided practices and policies has distorted college enrollment, completion, and costs.

For example, a well-meaning college-for-all movement directed students into four-year institutions, but many of these young people were unprepared for college-level work or didn’t really want to attend. A well-meaning effort to make college more affordable led to massive subsidies that have become over a trillion dollars in student debt.

In hindsight, we can see that this approach devalued non-college postsecondary tracks, enabled higher education institutions to increase costs, saddled students with substantial debt loads, and left tens of millions of people with “some college” but no degree—and others with a degree that didn’t match employers’ needs. Worse, because these problems are systemic in nature, their consequences may linger. The inflation of costs shows no signs of correction; bloated administrative ranks preserve aggressive, politically progressive campus policies; many debt-ridden adults possess credits untethered to future jobs; and public opinion has soured on higher education.

We could try to solve these problems in a piecemeal fashion. But is there a systemic approach that could drive down costs and make the sector more dynamic and responsive?

Yes, possibly. State policymakers should launch an energetic “new schools” strategy; that is, develop policies that enable social entrepreneurs to create a constellation of higher education institutions.