12.11.2017 0

Is there hope for the education system?

By Natalia Castro

Both sides of the aisle can agree that education reform is a necessity. With rising costs of higher education and increased joblessness amongst graduates, the higher education system is failing millions of young Americans. Rather than merely reauthorizing the Higher Education Act as administrations before have done, Congress is voting on the first significant changes to the legislation since 2008.

The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act was introduced by Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) as an opportunity to reauthorize the Higher Education Act with changes to fit it into a modern context.

As Representative Foxx explains, “We need a higher education system that is designed to meet the needs of today’s students and has the flexibility to innovate for tomorrow’s workforce opportunities. The PROSPER Act is higher education’s long overdue reform.”

The bill encourages greater partnership between industry and institutions by focusing additional resources toward Federal Work-Study programs and provides institutional aid to develop and implement career-specific programs. In a major shift toward private sector partnership, the bill also requires grant application boards and accreditation boards to have at least one member of the business community present, to ensure institutions receiving federal funds are preparing students to meet the needs of the labor force.

Higher education provides no benefit if students cannot receive jobs upon completion of their degree, the situation many students are currently finding themselves in.

Millennials are the most college educated generation, but at the same time too many are finding themselves unable to enter the labor force. The value of a college degree has dropped substantially due to increased enrollment, while tuition soars alongside attendance.

In states like Iowa, more than half of the available jobs are middle-skilled jobs requiring some form of vocational training or employment that needs more than a high school degree but less than a four-year college degree. Students entering college, rather than taking these careers have caused a skills gap across industries in the state’s labor force.

This leaves students with costly degrees but no place to find jobs, most of these students are merely forced to peddle in their debt until an opportunity comes along.

The PROSPER Act begins to taks aim at assisting students with debt as well.

According to the Act’s summary released by the House Education Workforce, the act simplifies the FAFSA system and streamlines student aid programs into a single grant, single loan, and single Work-Study program to “ease confusion for students who are deciding the best options available to responsibly pay for their college education”.

However, this has been a frequent area of controversy for the bill as well. Opponents of the bill have been quick to notice the legislation ends several student loan forgiveness and repayment programs for individuals working in the public and non-profit sector.

This is not the first time this option has been discussed, the Department of Education discussed the possibility of removing loan forgiveness programs earlier this year. Almost 600,000 borrowers have signed up for this program since President George W. Bush introduced it in 2007 to encourage graduates to enter the public service.

Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute argues while this bill does take significant steps to mend the federal aid system and reduce debt, it does not do enough, “What needs to happen, ultimately, is for federal student aid to be phased out… Students with a demonstrated ability to do legitimate college-level work in in-demand fields would almost certainly be able to find private loans; both borrower and lender would likely profit. This bill, not surprisingly, does not phase aid out. It does, though, consolidate aid programs, and takes some small steps forward, capping total amounts students and their families can borrow from Washington, and letting schools say they won’t let students borrow a lot if the program doesn’t seem to justify it.”

The federal government leads student financial assistance, but only because former President Barack Obama made it so. While passing Obamacare, a healthcare policy, President Obama federalized student loans to pay for the costly health plan. Republicans blame this action for souring student loan costs in recent years.

If the history of higher education chaos, exacerbated by elements of this bill, teaches us anything, it is that the federal government should not be handling education policy. While this legislation attempts to limit the federal government’s role in education, it does not go far enough to ensure state control. Many of these very reform elements could be shifted to the states.

The Constitution says nothing about Congress or the executive branch’s role in education, let alone higher education. If states wish to build private sector relationships, they should be the facilitator of those, rather than the federal government which is woefully out of touch with statewide industry needs.

Higher education should be a bipartisan point for Congress, but not federal legislators, state legislators. While the full jury is still out on this bill, as it has not reached the House and Senate floor yet, once it does, representatives would do best to push issues to state governments rather than attempt comprehensive reform on their own.

Natalia Castro is a contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government

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