Weekly Columns


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Washington, December 14, 2017 | Lani Short (202-225-6356) | comments

Quality education for all learners, no matter their age or stage in life, is the tool that keeps the American Dream alive for generation after generation. For more and more Americans, education doesn’t end when they receive their high school diploma with many of today’s most high-paying, highly-skilled jobs requiring some sort of degree or certificate from an institution of higher education. Unfortunately, at a time when our country is still bouncing back from a recession, the American workforce faces a shortage of roughly 6 million skilled workers. Worse, this number is expected to reach 11 million by 2022. This week, the House Education and Workforce Committee, on which I serve, took action to address this by reforming, streamlining and improving post-secondary education programs by reauthorizing the Higher Education Act with the Providing Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act. I believe this will greatly benefit future generations by ensuring workers are well-equipped for a job in today and tomorrow’s workforce.

Since 1965, the Higher Education Act has supported students and institutions of higher learning. These programs assist students financing their education, but too often come with complicated red tape for both students and the institutions. The process of applying for, and receiving, student aid is a complicated one that can be overwhelming even to those who have assistance. There’s no question the complicated maze of programs and regulations disproportionately affects the most vulnerable learners, driving up the cost of their education and making it difficult to know what programs are available to them. According to a study on federal regulatory compliance costs produced by Vanderbilt University, institutions of higher education spend an estimated $11.1 billion annually to comply with regulations. When considering the implications for students, Vanderbilt estimates that the annual cost of complying with federal regulations is $11,000 per student.

The PROSPER Act will reform these programs by promoting innovation, access and completion; simplifying the process for students receiving aid; empowering learners and their families to make well-informed decisions about what programs meet their needs; and ensuring there is strong accountability in higher education to protect students without unnecessary federal intervention. Among the reforms are: simplifying the complicated FAFSA form every student must complete to receive federal assistance; allowing eligible students to receive Pell Grant funding on a weekly or monthly basis, similar to a paycheck, rather than in one lump sum payment; streamlining the six federal loans currently available into one, easy-to-navigate loan program; simplifying the loan repayment process; giving certain students who graduate on time a $300 Pell Grant bonus; and encouraging institutions to expand opportunities for partnerships with institutions in order to train students for high-wage, high-skilled careers.

I’m pleased legislation I introduced is in the PROSPER Act, including a bill to ensure students with disabilities have access to the same education materials as their peers. The Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education (AIM High) Act establishes an independent commission to develop voluntary guidelines for accessible postsecondary electronic instructional materials. With an increasing amount of coursework requiring digital resources, colleges and universities should make accessible materials available to support their students. Students with disabilities who are pursuing their education should never have a disadvantage because they lack access to instructional materials, and this provision will encourage higher education institutions to provide equal access to all students.

In addition, included in the bill is a resolution I authored supporting free speech on college campuses, another issue about which I feel strongly. This provision expresses a sense of Congress that intuitions of higher education should facilitate and recommit themselves to protecting and promoting the free and open exchange of ideas. College is a place where your thoughts and beliefs are supposed to be challenged by your peers, and we have unfortunately moved away from that. It seems to me that some college campuses and student bodies would rather shout down a speaker with whom they disagree than engage in a thoughtful exchange of differing opinions. It is my hope that including this resolution will send a strong message to college and campus leaders that our society is better off when we allow the free and open exchange of ideas.

Helping students gain access to higher education is one of the most important jobs I have in Congress. I am proud of the PROSPER Act and want to thank Chairwoman Foxx for her leadership on this legislation. This bill will make necessary changes and updates to our higher education system in order to create a more sustainable path into the future.

Feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.

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Tags: Education