Shared from the 2017-12-25 Atlanta Journal Constitution eEdition

House panel’s college bill rewrite shifts education emphasis

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The GOP rewrite of the federal Higher Education Act promotes more short-term credentialing programs, but Georgia needs more college graduates, like these students at Georgia State last year. AJC

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Maureen Downey

Get Schooled

In re-imagining higher education, a U.S. House committee focused on career-tech and job training. The rewrite of the Higher Education Act by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce carries a snazzy title, the PROSPER Act, which stands for Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform.

The question: Will students actually prosper under the sweeping reforms?

The 540-page bill passed out of committee earlier this month after a 14-hour contentious session and goes now to the full House. (The Senate will take up the issue in the next few months.) The bill bends to the belief that not all students need a bachelor’s degree, but Georgia sends far too few kids to college. As the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education noted in its annual report on the state’s most pressing challenges, 60 percent of job postings in Georgia require at least an associate degree, yet only about 38 percent of the adult population has at least that level of education.

PROSPER promotes short-term credentials and encourages moving students out of classrooms into internships, apprenticeships and work-study. It creates opportunities for students to participate in industry-led earn-andlearn programs and allows Pell Grants for shorter-term programs to get recipients into the workforce faster.

At the hearing earlier this month, House Committee on Education and the Workforce chair Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said her committee has heard the “overwhelming majority of Americans who do not have a baccalaureate degree. We affirmed the simple fact that all education is career education ... There is real dignity and value pursuing a technical skills-based education that allows them to be the best they can be in the careers they really want to pursue.”

The Obama crackdown on for-profit colleges, which Democrats saw as consumer protection, is treated in the GOP bill as an intrusion that limits students’ choices. A recent report from National Center for Education Statistics found students at for-profit colleges were twice as likely to default on their loans than students from public campuses.

For-profit schools also post the lowest graduation rates. The six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began college in the fall of 2009 was 59 percent at public institutions, 66 percent at private nonprofit institutions, and 23 percent at private for-profit institutions. Yet, the bill erases the 90/10 rule, which prohibits for-profit colleges from earning more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal financial aid.

Rather than tighten rules on the for-profit industry, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said, “The bill relaxes the requirements ... beginning with the consolidation of the definition of institution of higher learning that, for many years, distinguished the mission of schools educating students for life versus those giving access to short-term programs to learn vocation skills. These schools are now considered on par with state flagship colleges and universities, private liberal arts colleges and regional public schools. They are considered just another actor in the higher education field, although study after study tells us this is not the case.”

Complaining the federal loan program is chaotic, House Republicans streamlined it, eliminating repayment options. Among the discarded options: the Obama-era regulation granting college graduates earning little money a reprieve from paying down their loans until their incomes rose. The GOP bill requires a minimum monthly payment, spurring concerns that the bill will push borrowers with the least financial resources into default.

The PROSPER Act ends loan forgiveness for students who go into public service, ending such incentives as the TEACH grants. The TEACH grants enticed education majors in high-need fields, STEM, special ed and foreign language, to teach in low-income schools.

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