U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie wants to make higher education more flexible to better serve non-traditional students.
To do that, he co-sponsored a bill that rewrites federal regulations governing higher education. The bill reauthorizes the Higher Education Act, first passed in 1965.
“Education and technology have changed so much, not only since the Higher Education Act first passed in 1965, but even since 2008, the last time it was reauthorized,” Guthrie said in a news release. “I hear from college graduate constituents who are saddled with thousands of dollars of debt or from would-be students who don’t have time for the typical four-year degree.”
Guthrie, a Bowling Green Republican, who chairs the subcommittee on higher education and workforce development, introduced the bill along with its primary sponsor, U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina.
Guthrie said Thursday the bill promotes innovation, access and college completion. It also aims to simplify student aid, give students and families more information and a limit federal role in higher education.
The legislation updates higher education regulations to reflect the changing college student population, he said. Current regulations primarily are geared toward four-year institutions and students who are 18 to 22 years old.
Guthrie said he values the traditional, four-year college experience if it works for students, adding that’s the route his children have taken.
“But just focusing on that is not enough,” he said.
He said the bill will make college more friendly for a non-traditional student with a job or family who sees the opportunity to advance at work.
“We need to make a pathway to a degree less cumbersome,” he said.
Through this bill, Guthrie said he’s working to address the skills gap in America. He said 6 million jobs in the country are not filled because skilled employees are unavailable.
“I wanted to focus on that,” he said.
He said the bill allows colleges the flexibility to award credit for life experience and to offer competency-based courses.
The bill includes changes to the Pell Grant program, which he said will make it more flexible for non-traditional students. The Pell Grant, which does not have to be repaid, helps low-income students attend college and about half the enrollees at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College receive money through the program.
Under the bill, students would receive Pell Grant money on a monthly or weekly basis, similar to a paycheck instead of the current system, which awards a bulk of the money at once.
ECTC Financial Aid Director Michael Barlow said disbursing aid on a weekly or monthly basis is an interesting proposal.
“I see many benefits for students using that model of disbursement,” he said. “Also, annually providing information to students regarding their Pell Grant usage would be especially useful to students as they transfer from one institution to another.”
Barlow said the bill’s changes to the federal student aid application are a plus for ECTC students. The bill aims to simplify the application.
The bill calls for a dashboard that will display key information about colleges and universities. Guthrie said it will be similar to the College Scorecard available at collegescorecard.ed.gov, but details still are being worked out.
Different types of students need different kinds of information, he said. He wanted to highlight for students the salary of different jobs, the amount of schooling required and the necessary skills.
“I want non-traditional students to be able to see the end of the tunnel when they show up to school,” he said.