Sen. Michael Bennet speaks at an event at Denver’s Confluence Park on Aug. 24, 2021. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado introduced bipartisan legislation on Thursday that would expand federal financial aid availability to students at trade schools, community colleges and other non-university postsecondary institutions.
The bill would create a pilot program to approve previously-unaccredited programs to participate in federal financial aid programs, with the hope that students would have better funding access to pursue the program that will advance their chosen career.
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“As the needs of America’s economy and students continue to change, the higher education system must evolve too,” Bennet said in a statement. “Our bipartisan legislation will ensure that students have the opportunity to attend institutions like trade schools and community colleges that have a proven track record of success. This is an important step to grow our skilled workforce and lower costs for students who want to advance their education.”
Right now, students who do not attend an accredited higher education institution cannot receive federal financial aid. That can affect enrollment in non-college programs and trade schools.
The bill would expand access and enrollment in postsecondary programs that “embrace the new ways people learn and acquire skills that lead to good paying jobs without enormous student loan debt,” according to an explanation document from Bennet’s office.
The authorization process for the pilot program would be outcomes-driven and focus on whether the program leads to a degree, certificate, or industry-recognized credential.
“When it comes to higher education, we must think more boldly and more expansively. Non-traditional programs and pathways that demonstrably connect learners facing barriers to employment with an in-demand credential and a good-paying job need access to major public funding streams to allow them to scale,” Helen Young Hayes, the founder and CEO of the Colorado-based non-profit ActivateWork, said in a statement.
This isn’t the first time Bennet has floated this legislation.
This year’s iteration of the Higher Education Innovation Act is co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. The duo also introduced the bill in 2015 and again in 2017, but the bill did not receive a committee hearing either time.
Bennet and Rubio are both up for reelection this fall.
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