Spending Agreement a Good Deal for Underserved Students and Job Seekers

This week lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been busy putting the finishing touches on a budget agreement for the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year. As I wrote a few months ago here, the need to invest in the nation’s students and workers has never been more essential.

I was pleased to see that the omnibus spending bill on its way to the President’s desk for signature protects many of the nation’s most important domestic priorities in education and workforce development. ACT applauds this bipartisan compromise which strengthens investments in programs that support underserved students and job seekers.

Here’s a recap of what’s in the bill:

  • Modest increases for training and education of young adults as well as for apprenticeship programs administered at the Department of Labor.
  • Renewed funding for grant programs under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that serve vulnerable communities, many of whom are disconnected from the labor market.
  • Restoration of “year-round” Pell Grants—a priority issue for ACT—that we believe levels the playing field and will allow low-income students to accelerate the time it takes to complete higher education.
  • Historically high investments made in the Higher Education Act’s TRIO and GEAR UP programs to ensure more low-income, minority, and first-generation students have the opportunity to enter into and succeed in postsecondary education.
  • New funding provided under Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act that can now be used for dual and concurrent enrollment programs. Much like year-round Pell Grants, these programs empower students to accelerate their studies while boosting persistence and achievement rates after they’ve left high school.

These sorts of investments will pay dividends not only for students, but for the country on the whole. As noted by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, two-thirds of all new jobs will require some form of postsecondary education or training by the next decade. Workers with at least this level of educational attainment already make up 65 percent of the total employment. And those who have a four-year degree now earn 57 percent of the nation’s wages.

Clearly, investing in programs that allow students to invest in themselves is the surest path to education, career, and lifelong success. This week’s agreement certainly makes strides towards this laudable goal.

However, looking ahead toward the next fiscal year which begins in September, more can and should be done to invest in these programs to further expand opportunity. In order to make that vision a reality, Congress must build on the progress made in this spending agreement and ensure federal investments in education and workforce development continue to help all individuals achieve education and workplace success.

This piece originally appeared on the ACT website.