In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Higher Education Act — a pillar of his domestic agenda intended to “strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education.”
Preparing our students to be successful in life continues to be a worthy goal we should all strive to achieve.
More than five decades later, federal aid programs are a chaotic maze full of outdated requirements and red tape that have driven up the cost of college and make postsecondary education too difficult to access for too many people. Meanwhile, more jobs today require postsecondary credentials or technical skills to fill these good-paying, family-sustaining jobs. Reforms are crucial to ensuring our higher education system is preparing the next generation of high-skilled workers to succeed in a 21st-century economy.
Today, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce — of which I am a member — is debating the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act. I want to share three critical priorities from this bill that I believe will transform our higher education system to promote access, innovation, affordability, and completion.
First, the PROSPER Act will improve and simplify federal student aid. We’re streamlining student aid programs into one grant program, one loan program and one work-study program to make it easier for students to pay for college in a responsible manner. Instead of facing a maze of repayment options, we’re transitioning the system to one standard 10-year repayment plan and one income-based repayment plan so students can better manage their debt when they graduate and enter the workforce.
For those students who take enough credits to put them on track to graduate on time, we’re providing a Pell Grant bonus to encourage completion.
Second, the PROSPER Act empowers students and parents to make better-informed decisions about what institution to attend. Too often, students decide where to attend college with incomplete information. The U.S. Department of Education currently collects information on debt and graduation rates from full-time students. This data, however, omits any student who transferred schools, attends part time or took time off.
So we’re offering the resources necessary to eliminate this problem. Under our plan, the department will provide aggregated information on average student debt and corresponding salary of students five and 10 years after graduation. Our bill would make this information available on each program at an institution that participates in a student aid program under Title IV.
There are many different types of students and numerous paths to obtaining a postsecondary degree. My own experience with higher education was as a nontraditional student. I took college courses at night while operating a small construction company during the day. I have two daughters currently in college and a son in high school. Countless students and parents across Pennsylvania and the nation have similar experiences. Everyone should have access to comprehensive information that includes traditional and nontraditional student outcomes.
Third, the PROSPER Act provides greater access to apprenticeship opportunities. Our bill expands an existing, competitive, earn-while-you-learn grant program where students get hands-on experience with an employer in the student’s chosen field of study. To keep pace with our 21st-century economy, we’re going to provide access to federal aid for students in short-term programs like computer coding “boot camps” and work-based learning programs both on and off campus. Students should be rewarded — not discouraged — for getting into the field and learning from professionals. Our bill puts these students on a level playing field with traditional students.
The bill, of course, has other provisions, and the process is still ongoing. I encourage you to go to my website for the text, a summary and other information. Please feel free to share your feedback with me at smucker.house.gov, or call my office at 202-225-2411.
My colleagues on the Education and the Workforce Committee and I want to see students achieve their full potential. And students want to push themselves to see just how high they can climb. This bill is a significant milestone in federal education policy, and I’m proud to support it. But the success of our students depends on all of us — students, parents, policymakers at all levels, and academic institutions — investing in reforms we know will renew the United States as the educational powerhouse it deserves to be.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker represents Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District, which includes almost all of Lancaster County and parts of Berks and Chester counties.