New Higher Education Reform Bill Will Help Low-Income Americans Go To College


New Higher Education Reform Bill Will Help Low-Income Americans Go To College

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Today, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.), chairwoman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, will introduce a landmark proposal to overhaul the way the federal government funds and oversees higher education. Based on a draft summary of the legislation that I’ve had a chance to review, one thing stands out about the bill: its focus on helping low-income Americans gain a college education.

The economic value of reforming the Pell Grant program

One of the most important economic divisions in America is between those who have a college degree, and those who do not. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey, the median income of Americans who haven’t gone to college is $36,000, while that of those with a college degree is approximately $60,000: 67% higher.

While a four-year college degree isn’t for everyone, and isn’t needed for every job, college will always be a de facto requirement for higher-level professional work. And so it’s important to make sure that every American who wants to go to college can afford to do so.

The average cost of attending a public four-year college is $65,000, and $150,000 at a private one, according to the Department of Education. On average, tuition has grown 5% a year for the past ten years. That’s a rate far faster than that of consumer inflation.

There are three basic problems that lower- and middle-income Americans face when confronting the U.S. higher education system.

The first is the one noted above: that the underlying cost of a four-year college degree is too expensive. The second is that federal student aid programs are badly structured, making it harder for aid recipients to complete their college coursework in a reasonable timeframe. The third is that we don’t create enough policy room for alternatives to a four-year brick-and-mortar college degree: low-cost vocational schools and online degrees.

The new Foxx bill—called The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity Through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act—proposes dozens of reforms, many of which would make significant progress toward these policy goals.