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Kline Statement: Markup of H.R. 3136, the Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act, H.R. 4983, the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act, and H.R. 4984, the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act

Today the committee will consider a number of legislative proposals as part of its continued effort to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

A report released last month confirms once again the value of receiving a postsecondary education. Researchers at the New York Federal Reserve asked whether the benefits of college still outweigh the costs and their answer was a resounding “yes.” The researchers write that “for the average student, a college degree remains a good investment.”

Unfortunately, too many Americans are struggling to turn the dream of a postsecondary education into reality. For some the cost associated with earning a degree is simply too great. Others have a hard time fitting the traditional college experience into a busy lifestyle that may already include family, work, or both. And students that do graduate often struggle to launch their careers with a pile of debt in a weak economy.

We've said time and again that the answers to many of these challenges must ultimately come from states and institutions. States should maintain a robust commitment to higher education and promote policies that make it easier for schools to fulfill their mission. Institutions must be good stewards of the tuition dollars they receive and ensure students graduate with a valuable degree in hand.

However, as federal policymakers, we have a role to play as well. Improving our higher education system is a national priority, which is why we’ve made reauthorizing the Higher Education Act a leading committee priority. Over the last several years, the committee has convened 14 public hearings, examined the testimony of dozens of witnesses, and engaged in a bipartisan effort to gather public feedback on ways to strengthen the law.

It’s been a long process, but one that was highly informative. As a result of what we’ve learned, we put forward a series of principles to help guide the next steps of the reauthorization process. But these are more than just principles; they reflect the responsibilities we bear and the work that lies ahead.

First, we need to empower students and families to make informed decisions. Students and families should be able to access the best information in a format that is easy to understand, enabling them to make smart, more informed decisions about their education.

Second, we need to simplify and improve student aid. It’s time to pull students and families out of the maze of programs that foster confusion and uncertainty by streamlining federal aid. Doing so will help students receive a clearer picture of the assistance they will receive in a more timely manner.

Third, we need to promote innovation, access, and completion. Innovation is the key to giving families more affordable choices in higher education, especially at a time when contemporary students are dominating college campuses. Programs that encourage access need to be strengthened and we have to find ways to make sure students actually complete their college education.

Fourth, we need to provide strong accountability while maintaining a limited federal role. Protecting the taxpayers’ investment is one of our top concerns, but we should also be mindful that federal rules and reporting requirements create administrative costs and those costs are often passed on to students in the form of higher fees and tuition. We need to strike the right balance between providing strong accountability and responsible federal oversight.

These principles provide the best path forward to strengthen America’s higher education system, and the legislative proposals before us today will begin to turn these principles into concrete solutions. Today we have an opportunity to encourage more innovation, enhance transparency, and help students make wise financial decisions. All in all that is a good day’s work.

I want to thank my colleagues – both Republican and Democrat – for their hard work on these important issues. I also would like to thank my colleague, George Miller, and his staff for helping to make this meeting a bipartisan endeavor.

Finally, let me just note that today is one step in a larger process to reform the Higher Education Act. No doubt there is some skepticism about moving forward in what might be described as a piece-meal approach, but remember these are complicated issues. A step-by-step approach will better inform members and the public about the policies we are pursuing.

And just as important, this approach will also allow us to move the ball forward starting now. Let’s make progress where we can and begin to strengthen American higher education today.

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