Aug 02 2019
The 21st century economy has brought incredible new opportunities for young people, but new challenges along with them. Take our higher education system.
Students usually need some form of higher education after high school to get a good job. But unfortunately, our current system mires them into staggering student loan debt. And tuition costs are only continuing to skyrocket each year.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time that we make higher education work for today’s students and families by making it more affordable, and also by making it easier for them to customize their own education and gain the skills they need to compete in today’s economy.
That’s why I introduced the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity (HERO) Act this week — a bill to bring much needed innovation, transparency, and accountability to our higher education system.
The first title of the bill deals with accreditation reform.
Today’s post-secondary students come from a range of different backgrounds, from the traditional 18-year old high school graduate, to the single mom going back to school, to the laid-off worker who needs to retrain mid-career — and meeting the needs of this diverse population means we need many more options that we had when current federal policies were first written decades ago. But current federal accreditation remains tied exclusively to the static model of the four-year, residential institution, preventing new models from emerging that could meet these needs.
The HERO Act would enable states to respond to these needs by allowing states to create alternative accreditation systems that can accredit any institution that provides post-secondary education. With this new accreditation power, states would be able to authorize innovative new education options like distance learning, competency-based offerings, and certification exams. It would also give states with these alternative systems the flexibility to determine clock hour and minimum program length requirements, allowing short-term workforce development programs and nontraditional education providers to be eligible for federal student aid.
The second title of the bill addresses transparency reform.
When it comes to choosing a good college and major, parents and students are often left to make these life-changing decisions in the dark. They do not have access to easily understandable data on how effective their college of choice is in helping students graduate on time; how burdened by debt they are after obtaining their degrees; and how successful graduates in a particular major are at obtaining jobs that enable them to pay back their loans. This title would require higher education institutions participating in federal student loan programs to publish this information in a way that students can easily access it and make informed decisions about where to attend.
The third title of the HERO Act would provide student loan reform.
Between 1982 and 2007, the average cost of a four-year college education rose by 439%, and costs have only continued to rise in the past decade. The typical solution to the affordability problem has been to increase the amount and types of loans that students can access.
However, this solution has actually contributed to the exponential rise in tuition rates. A July 2017 Federal Reserve Bank of New York study found that “a pass-through effect on tuition of changes in subsidized loan maximums of about 60 cents on the dollar.” This means that for every additional dollar the federal government allows students to borrow, colleges and universities increase their tuition by 60 cents, thus increasing the number of students who “need” loans to “afford” college in the first place.
The HERO Act would address the affordability issue by streamlining the current duplicative menu of student loan programs into one option and creating one repayment period for undergraduate loans and another for graduate loans. Additionally, the act would establish caps on loan amounts, which would help to keep university rate increases in check and lower the amount of debt students need to repay once they graduate from college.
Finally, the fourth title of the bill would provide accountability reform.
Today, many borrowers are not making payments on their student loans — one of the reasons some economists have predicted that student loans are the next financial bubble. The current system, however, doesn’t effectively require universities to lower tuition and verify that their students are able to repay the loans they take out.
The HERO Act would make sure that all parties in higher education have “skin in the game” by requiring schools with poor student loan repayment rates to pay a fine. Universities would have to repay 10 percent of the overall amount of loans made, taking into account loan default rates and the average national unemployment rate. It would thus ensure that colleges have a financial stake in their programs, and motivate them to invest in the success of their students.
Today’s students deserve a more innovative, transparent, accountable, and affordable higher education system that equips them for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century modern job market. The HERO Act would be a step in just that direction.