Aiming Higher

Why America’s Leading Employers Want the Higher Ed Act to Focus More Broadly on Skills

December 11, 2017

CEOs have a vested interest in how Americans are educated and trained. Human talent is the backbone of our members’ companies. That is why our members’ companies invest millions of their own dollars in education and support public-private partnerships with proven results.

CEOs also support public policies that undergird education, like the Higher Education Act. They have put together their own priorities for reauthorization of this bill. Those priorities are focused on six main areas: simplifying programs, employer partnerships, innovation, data, accountability and affordability. You can read them here.

Fundamental to these priorities is the belief that federal higher education policies should be focused on the broader need to ensure students have the opportunity to obtain the skills necessary to be successful in the workforce.

With this in mind, we were pleased to see the HEA reauthorization bill — the PROSPER Act — that Republican members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee released last week. It wisely shifts policy to focus on the skills the American workforce needs, reduces federal regulations and paperwork and aligns closely with the CEOs’ priorities. The PROSPER Actwould:

  • Simplify the FAFSA financial aid process, making it easier for students to access and navigate the system;
  • Promote employer partnerships, including enabling students who participate in work-study to do so in private sector companies, allowing them to obtain real-world experience;
  • Encourage innovation, chiefly by allowing institutions to more easily establish competency-based programs that measure mastery of skills instead of time spent sitting in a classroom, and allowing for short-term “workforce” Pell grants;
  • Increase the focus on outcomes as part of accreditation reviews; and
  • Incentivize students to graduate on time through a new Pell Grant bonus, improving graduation rates and making college more affordable.

While CEOs like many of the provisions included in this bill, we will be working with lawmakers to make some improvements. In particular, we believe that language should go further with respect to improving the data available to students. Although the bill would provide further insight into the earnings of graduates of certain programs, the data should reflect the outcomes of students at an institution, not just those receiving federal student aid. We also want to make sure certain that any final piece of legislation does not roll back the financial assistance currently available to students, discouraging them from seeking a postsecondary education.

We also strongly encourage members from both sides of the aisle to work together as this legislation moves forward. Although they have their differences, we believe there are many areas where consensus may be reached between the two parties, particularly around the broader focus of HEA as a critical investment toward ensuring all Americans have the skills to succeed and prosper in our economy. CEOs are certainly on board. The PROSPER ACT is a step in the right direction to make this a reality.