In the 50 years since the Higher Education Act was first signed into law, students, workers, businesses, and our economy have all transformed in response to the technological revolution that has swept the globe. Yet our nation’s approach to higher education seems to be stuck in neutral.
In 2017, the National Federation of Independent Business found that 45 percent of small businesses in America were unable to find qualified job applicants to fill job openings. There are more than six million job openings across the U.S. — a record high.
Much of this workforce shortage is due to a serious middle-skills gap in growing sectors of our economy like advanced manufacturing, health care, IT, logistics, transportation, construction, infrastructure and others. In nearly every region of the country, lack of trained, skilled workers has hamstrung businesses, and stalled economic growth.
Good jobs in many of these sectors — including jobs at Champion Builders, LLC right here in Louisiana — don’t require a four-year degree, but a certificate, credential, or two-year degree. If we want to grow businesses, get people the skills they need to get their foot in the door, and grow our economy, we’ve got to put short term certificate programs and industry-recognized credentials on equal footing with traditional, four-year college degrees. The way to do that is by modernizing the Higher Education Act — in particular, the Pell Grant Program.
Since the 1980s, federal education funding like Pell Grants have supported traditional, four-year degrees, but not short term certificate programs, but hopefully this bias against technical students will soon end.
There is a bill in the House of Representatives called the PROSPER Act. This bill would amend the Higher Education Act to allow Pell Grants to be used for short-term occupational programs. The PROSPER Act is a start, but it is missing a critical piece – assurance that the programs would lead to high quality credentials sought by employers.
There is a better, bipartisan bill called the Jumpstart our Businesses by Supporting Students Act that would not only allow Pell Grants to be used for short-term occupational programs, but would also lead to quality credentials by encouraging employers and educators to work together to ensure programs teach the in-demand skills sought by employers.
At stake is the future of the American economy, and the time to act is now.
Champion Builders, LLC