For too long, we’ve believed in the stereotype of college students as being young, bright-eyed youth, fresh out of high school, lounging in their dorms before heading to class in the quad. While true for some, this traditional image of postsecondary education is no longer the case for the majority of American students. Today, 37 percent of college students are 25 or older; 49 percent are financially independent from their parents; and 64 percent are working while taking classes.
And yet the federal government and the higher education sector too often continue to cater to an outdated vision of postsecondary education. This stubbornness in policy has resulted in mountains of debt, low student completion rates, dissatisfied employers, and a lack of accountability for poorly performing institutions. The overall national six-year completion rate, regardless of starting institution type and enrollment intensity, is just 58.3 percent. That's unacceptable. The old ways are hurting American students and businesses, and something needs to be done about it.
We sit on this Committee because we agree that it’s time to broaden our horizons in addressing the needs of all students. We’ve had several hearings already this Congress that demonstrate our shared commitment to reform postsecondary education, and today we’ll hear about some promising interventions that provide students more options in pursuing postsecondary pathways. Options such as dual enrollment, competency-based education, and apprenticeship style earn-and-learn programs have proven pivotal in propelling many students to success when they may have otherwise been ineffectively served by the postsecondary education system.
These promising and innovative initiatives seek to define pathways from high school to college and finally to fulfilling, high-paying jobs. Committee Republicans acknowledge the postsecondary education marketplace has many strengths, but we also recognize colleges and universities must step up to produce qualified graduates to fill the millions of open jobs available in our booming economy. Today, I hope to hear of several innovative practices that bridge the job skills gap, linking students to affordable, practical pathways that direct them toward lifetime success.
In order to aid all Americans, these innovations must work in such a way as to push for the success of all students, including minority students and students from low-income households. Innovation is not and cannot be a loophole that avoids high quality, and schools experimenting in delivery models must not exacerbate the challenges currently facing the postsecondary system today. But we also all need to embrace the change that is necessary in the postsecondary education system and work to support new, high-quality paths to continued learning.
As we strive to work toward reauthorizing HEA, it’s critical that we don’t just rubber stamp on outdated, failing policy. Bold reforms are necessary to put the postsecondary system on track to meet the needs of students. Last Congress, we worked hard to move forward with comprehensive HEA reform, to unleash innovation and prepare workers for a dynamic economy. To ensure all Americans have the opportunity to prosper, this Committee must pledge to reimagine antiquated concepts of higher education. If we do that, I am confident Congress can support students in completing an affordable postsecondary experience that prepares them to enter the workforce with the skills they need for lifelong success.