The House Committee on Education and the Workforce moved its higher education reauthorization bill, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act (PROSPER Act), out of committee five months ago. Soon after, HELP Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate MORE (R-Tenn.), indicated markup of the bill could begin this month. Let’s hope it does.
Despite a trillion dollar taxpayer investment in higher education over the last decade, the system’s federal student aid program, excessive bureaucracy and adherence to complex and outdated rules and regulations have not decreased the cost of college. Federal student loan debt has nearly tripled in the last decade to nearly $1.5 trillion.
Even school administrators admit they have trouble navigating current federal financial aid system — a system that has made the pursuit and completion of higher education extremely difficult, if not unachievable, for far too many students.
Americans deserve a higher education system that works for them. They deserve a more equitable and less costly federal student loan program. They deserve more federal support for low-income and first-generation undergraduate students. They deserve innovative and high-quality degree and certification programs leading to “real jobs.”
They deserve improved college completion rates. They deserve the opportunity to make informed decisions. They deserve stronger institutional accountability and a more limited federal role. What they really deserve is a revolution in higher education affairs focused on raising the number of Americans with the degrees and certifications needed to shape, compete and prosper in a knowledge-based, data-driven global economy.
Back in January, Alexander indicated Senate markup of the bill would begin this month. Last week he said it would depend on whether the committee’s ranking member Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayUnder pressure, Democrats cut back spending Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Colin Powell's death highlights risks for immunocompromised Senate Democrats ditch Hyde amendment for first time in decades MORE (D-Wash) wanted to move forward with legislation. Murray responded by saying, “the congressional calendar will be a hindrance.”
She added, “we don’t have that much time left, and as you know, once it gets close to election time, everybody wants to wait until after elections to see who is in charge." Despite their history of working together to pass education legislation, last week’s comments by both senators are disheartening.
Kicking the reauthorization can down the road for another year or two (or even longer) is the last thing Americans want Congress doing in an election year. Sending a Higher Education Reauthorization Bill to the president this year ought to be viewed by Congress as a national security imperative.
With time on the 2018 reauthorization clock running out, it’s time for the House to debate, amend and send a final PROSPER Act to the Senate. And Alexander and Murray need focus on what they do best — developing and passing bipartisan education legislation Americans deserve.
The voices and pens of the higher education special interests have dutifully weighed in on the PROSPER Act. Members of Congress have received their comments and point papers, not to mention the nearly $1billion they’ve received from higher education lobbyists since the last reauthorization in 2008.
In a recent editorial published in The Hill, former Republican Rep. Steve Gunderson said, “The economic and demographic realities of today demand that both political parties find a way to modernize a current Higher Education Act created in a different time, for a very different student body, and a very different economy … This is the year to modernize our nation’s higher education policy,” said Gunderson, adding, “Let’s just do it!”
No substantive piece of legislation is perfect, particularly a major overhaul of the higher education system — but kicking reauthorization down the road is morally reprehensible and politically irresponsible. Voter desire to end the status quo of government programs that do not work for them was clearly evident in the last election. Such sentiment may be stronger in the next.
Ronald Bearse is a former education financing company executive and studied education as an element of national power at the National Defense University.