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House Takes Positive Steps to Overhaul Higher Education

October 16, 2019

At a Glance

House Democrats introduced their vision to upgrade our nation’s higher education system. It’s a major improvement, but we still need more far-reaching reforms.

House Democrats yesterday introduced their vision for upgrading our nation’s higher education system, the College Affordability Act (CAA). We applaud the House for proposing solutions to many critical issues in higher education. But, ultimately, we would prefer to see a more far-reaching overhaul of the Higher Education Act. Today’s students and the U.S. economy demand it.

JFF is pleased that the bill, introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott, chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor, includes a number of provisions that promise to better meet the needs of today’s students. These include:

  • A new federal-state partnership that would encourage statewide, evidence-based reforms
  • A new program that expands opportunities for students to earn college credit in high school
  • An end to the ban on a federal data system for tracking students across their education and workforce experiences, and the establishment of new requirements for collecting student outcomes data on college transfers, employment, and earnings
  • Incorporation of student completion and workforce outcomes in accreditation decisions
  • Updates to the federal work-study program to better support low-income students
  • An expansion of the Pell Grant program that allows grants to be used for quality, short-term courses
  • New programs to support stronger navigation and wraparound services to keep students in college and on track toward completion

Congress could strengthen the CAA by detailing the evidence-based reforms that JFF has previously urged policymakers to include in any proposed federal-state partnership. These include innovations seeded through the TAACCCT program (e.g., implementation of credit for prior learning and competency-based education) and other evidence-based initiatives, including college in high school programs, career pathways, and sector-focused initiatives. The bill could also be strengthened with work-study reforms that focus on high-quality, relevant work-based learning experiences, including apprenticeships.

Today's students and the U.S. economy deserve a far-reaching overhaul of the Higher Education Act.

As the CAA moves through the legislative process, we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to enhance it. For example, we would like to find ways to expand the bill’s focus on innovative postsecondary education models and state-based student success reforms as well as relevant work-based learning experiences.

Today’s students need more than just access to college. They need programs that will help them enter, persist in, and complete postsecondary programs in which they earn credentials of value. And employers need more than just employees with postsecondary credentials. They need people who have the skills, education, and work experiences that will enable them to make immediate contributions on the job. Unfortunately, our current higher education system is not equipped to meet those needs.

Congress should put politics aside and work across the aisle—and across chambers—to develop and pass a more comprehensive update to the Higher Education Act.

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