Higher Education

Building a “tomorrow ready” workforce requires modernizing federal policies to strengthen education and training pipelines so America’s youth and working adults can secure fulfilling jobs and sustainable career paths. Congress can start by modernizing the Higher Education Act (HEA) as part of its reauthorization and incorporating reforms to increase access to high-quality, affordable education and on-the-job training for America’s students and workers.

Driving HEA Modernization & Reauthorization

Business Roundtable members are calling on Congress to take the following actions as part of HEA reauthorization:

  1. Expand eligibility for federal financial aid to students pursuing certificate and/or industry-recognized certification programs;
  2. Allow students who take a minimum of 150 clock hours to qualify for federal Pell Grants; and
  3. Change the federal work-study program to allow funds to be used for off-campus work experiences.

HEA Status Quo Does Not Reflect the Needs of Today’s Students, Jobs of Tomorrow

Current federal higher education policies are outdated and do not reflect the realities nor the needs of today’s students. While the higher education system since the passage of HEA in 1965 has been geared toward students 18 and over, the reality is, nearly 40 percent of today’s students are adults over the age of 25. And though the majority of the over $130 billion the federal government spends annually on student aid goes to students at four-year bachelor’s-awarding universities, nearly 60 percent of today’s students are attending two-year colleges. 

Federal Student Aid Delivering Weak Returns on Public Investment

For the over $130 billion spend on federal student aid, the results achieved based on this investment are lackluster and underscore the need for policy modernization. From debt accumulated by students to the fact that 46 million Americans 18 and over have some college, but have not earned degrees, there is room for improvement, and bipartisan reforms to HEA are the answer.

BRT Position: Expand eligibility for federal financial aid to students pursuing certificate and/or industry-recognized certification programs.

Pell Grants Require More Hours of Training than Today’s In-Demand, High-Paying Jobs

Currently, to be eligible for a Pell Grant, an individual must take 600 clock hours of training. Considering many of today’s students are not taking the path from high school to a four-year institution and 58 percent work while enrolled in college, the Pell eligibility requirements must change to expand pathways for working adults.

As further evidence of the need for a shift in policy, while nearly 70 percent of all new jobs require some form of postsecondary education, many do not necessarily require a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, nor the 600 clock hours of training for certification required to qualify for a Pell Grant.

BRT Position: Allow students who take a minimum of 150 clock hours to qualify for federal Pell Grants. 

Federal work-study dollars are not being used for valuable off-campus work experiences. In fact, less than 1 percent of federal work-study dollars go to support students working off-campus at a business.

BRT Position: Change the federal work-study program to allow funds to be used for off-campus work experiences.

Read our principles to ensure HEA reauthorization helps students, employers and America.

In addition to HEA, Business Roundtable supports federal legislation—such as the Carl D. Perkins Act and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act—to fund programs that create more postsecondary education opportunities and improve educational outcomes.

“It’s time to give Americans new education pathways to prosperity and to build a workforce that is 'Tomorrow Ready.' That means modernizing the Higher Education Act so students and mid-career professionals can get federal help to build the skills and competencies that lead to great jobs. Common sense policy reforms like this, along with business-led efforts to better align skills with jobs like the Business Roundtable Workforce Partnership Initiative, will help close America’s high-tech skills gap and expand opportunity in communities across the country.”


-Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President and CEO of IBM Corporation and
Chair of the Business Roundtable Education & Workforce Committee