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Witnesses Outline Key Reforms to Make Higher Education More Accessible and Affordable

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), held a hearing today to examine the opportunities and challenges facing America’s higher education system, as well as discuss possible reforms to improve the Higher Education Act.

“These are exciting times in higher education,” Chairwoman Foxx said. “Today there are more opportunities for more individuals to pursue higher education than ever before. However, America’s higher education system is also facing a number of significant challenges.”

Witnesses agreed — highlighting some of the challenges with the current higher education system, including rising costs, an overly complex federal student aid system, and graduates who are underprepared for today’s workforce.

William E. Kirwan, co-chair of the Senate Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education, discussed how regulatory burdens imposed on colleges and universities result in higher costs. Kirwan emphasized the need for responsible regulations that protect students, families, and taxpayers, without limiting the ability of colleges and universities to serve their students well.

“When it comes to costs associated with federal regulations, we are largely powerless,” Kirwan said. “It is all too easy for policymakers to think of regulation as a free good. The reality is that the costs of regulation are almost always passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.”

He went on to say, “Regulatory reform seems to be an area where we can remove red tape and reduce costs while we continue our prudent stewardship of public dollars and provide students and families the information they need to make informed choices.”

When it comes to student aid, Beth Akers, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, underscored the need for simplicity.

Akers explained, “Our system of federal financial aid is needlessly complex. This might seem like a small problem, but research has shown that complexity is a significant barrier to college enrollment for students from our lowest income households … simplifying the process of financial aid needs to be on the agenda.”

Kevin Gilligan, chairman and CEO of Capella Education Company, raised another significant barrier many students face following graduation — finding a job.

“While our current system of higher education is the envy of the world, it is struggling to keep up with the pace of change in our evolving economy,” Gilligan said. “Simply put, it creates too much debt and isn’t creating a workforce with the skills required to drive economic growth and lift up the many Americans struggling for upward mobility.”

Gilligan discussed various innovations to address this issue, including better collaboration between employers and higher education institutions.

 “A more direct alignment between learning institutions and employers is critical to improving outcomes, driving down costs and strengthening the American workforce,” he said.

As the committee moves forward with efforts to strengthen the higher education system, Chairwoman Foxx emphasized the need for commonsense reforms to address these challenges and ensure all Americans have the opportunity to obtain a higher education.

“It’s clear that we have our work cut out for us, but inaction is not an option,” Chairwoman Foxx said. “Today marks the beginning of the next phase in our effort to strengthen America’s higher education system for students, parents, institutions, and taxpayers. I look forward to the important work that lies ahead. Let’s get to work.”

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