Young People Need Education Options Beyond the 4-Year Degree

For years, the federal government has played into a “College Bound or Bust” mentality, allocating education funding mostly to traditional degree programs and furthering the narrative that a college degree is the only path to success. The Republican Study Committee, the largest caucus of conservatives in Congress, has worked through its American Worker Task Force to develop solutions that empower hard-working Americans to choose the best educational path for them.

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Many Americans already know that skilled trades, which offer good pay and often struggle to find qualified workers, offer a promising path to success. The American Worker Task Force has proposed reforms to help level the playing field in federal programs between career and technical education (CTE) programs and traditional degree programs, to offer more paths for students, beginning in high school.

Unfortunately for those who choose to follow CTE paths, federal student aid heavily favors those who opt for a traditional college education. In order to equalize federal opportunities between CTE programs and four-year colleges, lawmakers must allow federally supported funding streams like Pell Grants and 529 Savings Accounts to be used for short-term CTE programs.

One way in which the American Worker Task Force suggests achieving this goal is through the Pell Flexibility Act, which will let Pell Grants be applied to short-term CTE programs. By doing so, the federal government will begin to erase the idea that a traditional college degree is the only path to career success, while offering financial assistance for those going into a skilled trade.

For those students who do pursue a college degree, many face high tuition and will enter the workforce saddled with a heavy student debt burden. Consequently, the American Worker Task Force supports providing regulatory clarity for income sharing agreements (ISA). This innovative financing mechanism allows students to receive funds for tuition in return for a time-limited commitment of a percentage of their future earnings.

By providing regulatory clarity, lawmakers can create a legal framework for ISAs that will provide students – both on a traditional four-year track or in CTE programs – with the financial means to succeed academically without depending entirely on student loans. Allowing institutions to explore innovative ISA financing models could make higher education more accessible for countless traditional and non-traditional students. In this vein, we were delighted that the CARES Act also included a provision that allows employers to contribute up to $5,250 per year to help their employees pay off their federal student loans. That money, up to $5,250, will not be taxed for the employee. This innovative benefit is available to any employer – public or private, federal or state government.

To ensure the success of our future workers, lawmakers ought to ensure that the student lending system is oriented toward economic success. Enhancing private lending options would naturally guide more borrowers toward education paths that prepare them for careers in sectors with more demand for workers. It would also give more high school graduates the opportunity for an affordable college education.

In 2019, the House of Representatives passed H.Res. 327, which I introduced with Congressman Bill Foster (D-IL), to encourage greater public-private sector collaboration and promote financial literacy for students and young adults. Introducing primary school students to financial literacy and personal finance classes will help create a deeper understanding of earning, saving, and spending money. Acquiring these skills at a younger age allows students to better navigate complicated financial decisions as adults and puts them on a path towards lifelong fiscal prosperity.

Additionally, the American Worker Task Force recommends enacting the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act, which would change one-time entrance counseling for student loans to annual counseling and require each student to receive average loan and employment data. By providing increased transparency to students, lawmakers can provide students with the tools they need to make informed decisions about their education and can help students start out on a better path for career success. 

Whether it’s a college education or a career in a skilled trade, every American deserves the opportunity to succeed. By taking steps to expand education and career opportunities we can help individuals of all backgrounds achieve the American dream.

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