Pros and Cons of the New House PROSPER Act

Published dec. 05, 2017

On Friday, Representative Virginia Foxx, chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Representative Brett Guthrie, chairman of the Higher Education and Workforce Development subcommittee, introduced H.R. 4508, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act. The bill is designed to update the nation’s major higher education law to help an increasingly diverse student population in the United States prepare for and succeed in today’s economy. 

Jobs for the Future is pleased to see Congress begin to take on a comprehensive approach to updating the Higher Education Act. The current law is outdated and does not effectively address the needs of today’s postsecondary students. JFF urges Congress to spur the development of innovative and evidence-based postsecondary strategies designed to help a broad range of individuals, including those who are unemployed and underprepared, so they may successfully access and attain the postsecondary credentials and skills needed for family-supporting careers. In all of these efforts, it will be vital to ensure that individuals who are most in need have access to the full range of services and supports that ensure economic mobility for all Americans. 

While we are still sorting through the details and implications of the PROSPER Act, JFF applauds Chairwoman Foxx and Chairman Guthrie for recognizing that traditional models of postsecondary education do not adequately serve the needs of an increasing number of students in today’s economy. The bill would:

  • Support competency-based education and begin to move away from antiquated seat time requirements, a change that would benefit adult learners—a population that makes up roughly 40 percent of today’s postsecondary population—who often need an accelerated route toward completion. 
  • Create new earn-and-learn career pathway partnerships between employers and institutions of higher education, which will help ensure students gain practical work experience. 
  • Help students gain relevant work experience—the bill reforms the Federal Work Study program by increasing funding for the program, focusing on outcomes, and reducing constraints on student placements with extramural employers. 
  • Increase the Higher Education Act’s focus on student outcomes by establishing a college dashboard to improve transparency about graduate outcomes, including earnings, and increasing the attention of the accreditation process on student outcomes.

While we are pleased to see these shifts toward modernizing our higher education system, JFF also believes that Congress must continue to provide students with the supports and resources they need to succeed in higher education. We are concerned that the bill eliminates and makes reductions in a number of student financial supports, such as the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (SEOG), student loan interest subsidies, and public service loan forgiveness. These programs provide critical resources to support student success. While we understand and support the chairpersons’ desires to make sense of a very complex web of student assistance programs, we are concerned that the bill as written could make college less affordable and limit access for low-income students. And while we applaud the bill’s commitment to new transparency and its focus on accountability, we believe even more must be done to ensure that students have the information they need to make smart decisions and hold institutions accountable for outcomes.

JFF looks forward to continuing to work with congressional leaders from the House and Senate as the higher education reauthorization process proceeds and moves the nation’s higher education system toward helping more Americans attain the skills and credentials needed for today’s economy.