As students return to college campuses across America this fall, Congress is reauthorizating the Higher Education Act (HEA) in an attempt to address the needs of families who have to deal with the swiftly rising costs of pursuing the dream of a college degree.
In July, the House took the first step in this reauthorization by passing the Ready to Teach Act. This bill makes improvements to the teacher training programs funded under Title II of the Higher Education Act, providing the teachers of tomorrow with the skills they’ll need to be ready to teach when they enter the classroom.
According to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, cost factors prevent 48 percent of college-qualified high school graduates from attending a four-year institution, and 22 percent from attending any college at all. The statistics are similarly bleak for middle-income students and families. At this rate, by the end of the decade, more than 2 million college-qualified students will be completely denied the opportunity for a post-secondary education.
A college education has long been viewed as a ticket to prosperity, the gateway to the American dream. Today, higher education is playing a more vital role than ever in shaping our nation’s competitiveness. The manufacturing economy of the 20th century is being transformed into a knowledge economy, in which a nation’s fortunes may be more directly linked than ever to the knowledge and know-how of its workers. Parents, students, and taxpayers are investing billions in higher education each year, and institutions must be accountable for ensuring they’re getting a quality return on that investment.
The leadership in the House of Representatives has laid out four principles that will guide us as we complete HEA reauthorization and confront the college cost crisis head-on. These principles place a renewed emphasis on opening the doors of higher education, particularly for low- and middle-income students struggling to afford the skyrocketing cost of a college degree. We believe Congress must: hold colleges accountable for cost increases without over-burdensome federal intrusion, remove barriers for non-traditional students, improve quality and innovation by empowering consumers, and realign student aid programs to ensure fairness for America’s neediest students and families.
Congress enacted the Higher Education Act in 1965 with the intent of making the dream of college possible for low-income students who otherwise had little chance of a post-secondary education. In recent years, however, the Higher Education Act has been diverted away from this mission. Federal resources are increasingly subsidizing individuals who have long since earned their degrees and entered the workforce, instead of low-income students currently aspiring to go to college.
This trend must be reversed, and the federal investment must again be focused on increasing access for students, particularly because of the cost increases plaguing our nation’s higher education system.
The primary federal investment in higher education, ringing in at roughly $65 billion this year, is direct financial assistance to students. And the cornerstone of increasing access for low-income students is the Pell Grant. However, despite record spending for Pell Grants under President Bush, skyrocketing college costs are depleting the purchasing power of the program and putting college out of reach for many needy students.
The leadership in the House seeks to make information about cost increases more available to parents and students and to hold colleges accountable for their uncontrolled cost increases. Reauthorization of the HEA also provides Congress with an opportunity to realign student aid programs to ensure they’re fairly administered and meeting their fullest potential to serve students in need.
Though college costs are a significant impediment for many aspiring college students, they are but one of many unnecessary barriers to a college education in America. The House leadership has made it a priority to remove these barriers and make the nation’s higher education system more accessible, consumer-friendly, and responsive to the needs of students and families. The reauthorization of the HEA also provides an opportunity to hold institutions accountable by adding new transparency so parents, students, and taxpayers know what they’re getting for their multi-billion-dollar investment. Choosing a college is a decision that will affect a student for the rest of his or her life. For that reason, Republicans believe, colleges should have an obligation to provide useful, easy to use, and understandable information so students and parents can make this monumental decision with all the facts in hand.
These principles will shape efforts to strengthen the nation’s higher education system. Republicans believe by following these principles, and putting the needs of students first, we’ll all be able to proudly state that America continues to offer the best opportunities for higher education in the world. IBI