Responding to Uncertainty: Preparing for the PROSPER Act

The PROSPER Act may pass as is, and the PROSPER Act may not pass as is. Because of its uncertain standing, I thought we could go over possible positive responses to either outcome. Whether impending changes help or hinder us largely depends on how prepared students, families of students, advisors, advocates, institutions, aid programs, and other affected parties are.

Underlying Motives According to Someone Supporting PROSPER

One of the motivations for reforming the Higher Education Act of 1965, according to Representative Virginia Foxx, is the dissonance between what universities provide (as well as how they provide it) and what the upcoming workforce needs.

Before becoming a member of Congress, Foxx worked at a community college for a time. In a recent article about community college and the PROSPER Act, she tied personal experience into a political vision. She emphasizes how well community college can reach students through small-scale programs tailored to local economic needs. This way students begin their higher education journey with a promising career waiting at the end. Furthermore, Foxx expresses how the revisions and overhaul of the HEA should provide access to such programs to more students from low-income families and first-generation students.

Issues Despite Good Motives

Virginia Foxx affirms large claims PROSPER should lead to (more fulfilling, high-paying jobs; higher university completion rates; relevant degrees). However, much of what she writes is built on premises that are, sadly, not easy facts to prove. An example of such a fact is her statement that six million unfilled, high-paying jobs are lacking qualified workers.

Foxx places blame, in this article at least, almost entirely on postsecondary institutions. Let’s say we could prove that the number of such unfilled jobs is six million – using it as proof that higher education institutions are solely to blame for this would be over-simplifying the problem. The problem with our system turns out to be multiple problems, and the problem-wrought system is actually multiple systems. While we can agree postsecondary education needs to change, such change will by no means cover the whole picture. Family, high school, location, awareness of available programs, accessibility, policies currently in place – these and many other factors contribute to the wonders and difficulties in the current education system in the U.S.

Anyway, this is to say that the straightforward “here’s our solution” attitude will likely lead to disappointment if PROSPER passes. So, while acknowledging some of the encouraging aspects of the act (like a focus on community college programs), let’s remember we will still have issues to sort through.

Harmful Repercussions

Many issues would probably be unintended repercussions of PROSPER, such as the way it might dissuade university-level grant provisions. Sierra Darville wrote in Diverse about concerns some nonprofit advocacy organizations have regarding the way TRIO programs will change in how they are given out.

TRIO programs are federal outreaches and services designed to find and help students from disadvantaged backgrounds. PROSPER’s current setup would mean that institutions with similar programs to TRIO could be ineligible for TRIO funds. This means these particular federal funds can prioritize institutions without any such programs. On the other hand, it shows that PROSPER might hinder institutions that might otherwise create similar financial aid programs. For, note how institutions would need to choose between federal help and their own programs, instead of having an option of providing both to those who need it most.

I found it funny how Darville’s article showed (rather convincingly) various ways like this that PROSPER clashes with the visions of TRIO so as to make it seem like PROSPER is not the best for lower-income and first-generation students. Yet this directly opposes what we saw Foxx line out as the goals of PROSPER. And, just to clarify, both these articles were published within the same month (April). This means such conflicting perspectives are coexisting, which highlights the complexity of such a large bill.

Our Response as PROSPER Act Details Unfold

Yes, so political opinions are contradicting each other – nothing new, right? Not quite right: I am trying to show that each analysis of the PROSPER Act (which, in its largeness, seems to be ever-giving of topics to analyze) has some merit. This means that if PROSPER does not pass, we can celebrate how we avoided some convoluted and rather serious issues. Yet, if PROSPER does pass, we can draw from more promising sections, spreading knowledge on programs that could help students avoid some debt and, for those in debt, help pay off loan. Also, being more aware of PROSPER’s downfalls gives us a good base to think up solutions to the new problems. Let’s keep reading about this crazy act, then, and learn how we can best respond to its weaknesses and strengths.

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