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Opening Statement of Rep. Lloyd Smucker, Hearing on "Engines of Economic Mobility"

We’re all here today because we believe that every American should have the opportunity to pursue postsecondary education. We know doors are opened by a college degree, and we understand the importance of making this kind of opportunity achievable for everyone in our country.

Higher education can help set individuals on the right path to achieve the American dream. While it's not the only pathway to a high-quality, family-sustaining job, it provides many with the opportunity to get their foot in the door to a lifelong career. As a result of the economic policies that we've put in place, the good news is today's graduates are entering a booming job market. We have over 7 million job openings and only 6.7 million unemployed. I'm very proud of the opportunities our economic growth will create for the next generation and believe that if we give students access, those who are willing to work hard and make good decisions have an excellent opportunity to succeed. That access is a critical piece of the pie. Higher education should be accessible and attainable, regardless of circumstance, which is why the federal government has made it a clear priority to ensure low-income and first-generation students have the tools they need to prepare for postsecondary education commitments and manage the costs associated with earning a degree.
 
As we continue to consider what must be done in any reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, we have the opportunity to ensure that restructuring and innovation in our higher education system provides all students equal access to opportunities that offer pathways to success – both inside and outside of the conventional classroom. This could mean alternative pathways to a four-year degree, such as offering programs to teach in-demand skills so that students can take only the courses they need to do their jobs, dual enrollment pathways, and opportunities later in life to re-skill.
 
For any of these changes to take place, we must recognize that money is an important part of the conversation, and institutions need to be willing to take more responsibility for the outcomes of their students. Stories like one from this weekend, where a billionaire gifted an entire graduating class with paying off their student debt, are great examples of one person’s capacity for excellence and generosity. They also illustrate something too easily forgotten: that nothing is free, and someone always pays the price. This means Congress and institutions need to step up to the plate, and do all they can respectively, to make higher education an investment that doesn’t cost more than it reaps- for students and taxpayers.

In the Promoting Real Opportunity Success and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, which was a comprehensive proposal to reauthorize the HEA in the 115th Congress, Republicans included reforms that allowed students greater access to federal student aid, promoted earn and learn programs, increased flexibility in spending institutional aid, and reformed the federal work study program to better prepare students for future employment in their chosen fields. These bold ideas for affordable and accessible postsecondary education recognized that for too long, the federal government has complied with a myopic view of what postsecondary education is and why people pursue any kind of higher education. We must recognize that postsecondary education needs to work for students—not the other way around.
 
The committee should continue to consider these reforms top priorities as it discusses policy changes that could be included in the reauthorization of the HEA. We need to be striving, on both sides of the aisle, for new ideas that will increase opportunities for all American students, regardless of circumstance, and support their efforts to succeed and prosper.