Few topics are as dear to me as education. Only a handful of actions can propel you forward in life, like the benefits of a good education. I’m a deep believer in education and firmly committed to it because it truly helps level the playing field for later in life. As I was taught early in life by my parents, education is the gateway to a lifetime of opportunity only limited by one's thirst to acquire it.
I wanted to provide this introduction because as much as I respect education and the system that supports it, I have a growing concern.
Many students attend college. A sizable number either quit before graduation or when they graduate, they are unable to find a job. Adding to the pain of job searching, many are burdened with student debt that is crushing, especially when even those who do find work end up with a salary that is on the periphery of the poverty level while they are still making tuition loan payments.
We cannot tolerate this situation, which is why I have recently introduced legislation to ensure that the degrees that our children
are receiving will lead to gainful employment. My proposal directs the Secretary of Higher Education to develop gainful employment requirements that public institutions of higher education and certain proprietary schools must meet to participate in state student assistance programs.
It isn’t enough to woo students to campus and encourage them to take out loans and then leave them ill-prepared for graduation. Imagine an organizer for a foot race receiving money to sponsor such an event and requiring participants to pay. But then, midway through the race, there were no signs directing them to the finish line, and the organizer didn’t really care if you completed the race.
Life is a succession of goals. Educationally, one goal is to graduate and receive a degree. But I would suggest that the larger issue here is not just completing school but positioning yourself for a job that offers future opportunities. That, my friends, is the larger goal of life. My proposal will help remove some of the transparency obstacles and add some impetus to a system that needs restructuring and improving. It is a wake-up call to administrators at public institutions of higher learning.
Some might say, “Well, students are old enough to make responsible decisions.” Most students are 17 to 18 years old when applying to college. Hopefully, their parents are involved. But what will help them and their parents make the wisest decision is information and transparency, the latter being my ironclad belief that if you have the facts, more informed decisions will follow.
The bottom line in this discussion is that too few students graduate from college, and when they leave, with a degree or not, they have tons of debt.
Public institutions of higher learning receive money for educating our youth. And they should. But we should also require them to provide a benchmark that illustrates results and clarifies the pathway for students and their parents, who need a clearer understanding of their educational choices and costs.
My proposal would provide students with the following information:
• the occupations that the program prepares students to enter;
• the on-time graduation rate for students completing the program;
• the tuition and fees a student is charged to complete the program on-time;
• the job placement rate for students completing the program as determined under a methodology developed by the Secretary of State; and
• the median student loan debt incurred by students who completed the program, separately identifying federal, state and private educational loans.
This week, the Wall Street Journal ran this headline: “Should College Students be Required to Take a Personal-Finance Course?" I believe that my bill answers the question even before they attend school. If students and their parents have the vital information my bill requests, they are more likely to be more informed and poised to make better decisions regarding their educational future. That’s my take, what’s yours?