A newly released report from a 13-member task force of academics and experts from think tanks calls to “reform higher education funding to upend the existing skew toward traditional academic education,” and to instead allocate more federal financial aid to career education programs.
Opportunity America, a conservative nonprofit group, led the project, which the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution cosponsored. A resulting 136-page report proposed what it calls “bipartisan, budget-neutral recommendations to restore opportunity for working-class communities amid changing demographics.”
The report includes several proposals related to higher education, including a call to discourage employers from requiring college degrees for jobs that do not require them. It also backs emerging forms of “flexible” postsecondary education and training, including online and hybrid programs, competency-based education, coding boot camps, training by companies, and apprenticeships. Data-driven quality control is needed for these and other federally subsidized education programs, the task force said, recommending experimentation with alternative forms of accreditation, including outcomes-based and industry-driven options. It also called for removing the ban on a federal student tracking system.
On federal aid, the report said only about 20 percent of the total amount spent on Pell Grants goes toward occupational education. It said several existing federal programs could be trimmed or eliminated — such as loans for graduate students and tax credits for upper-middle-class students and families — to redirect more aid toward career education, including for possible short-term Pell Grants, a move that has some bipartisan support in Congress.
“Our vision: low-income and working-class students should be able to use Pell Grants and indeed student loans for noncredit occupational instruction at community colleges, MOOCs, coding boot camps and in-house training offered by employers, among other options, as long as offerings meet with nationally agreed-upon standards of quality assurance,” the report said. “We understand the wisdom in starting slowly and carefully, with one or more federal pilots. But we see no reason to hold back in the design of these experiments. This challenge will not be met with timid half measures.”