A Republican senator says that American universities have a "monopoly" on higher education, and he has some legislation aimed at breaking it up and putting more federal support behind vocational and skills training.
Tuesday morning, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) announced a pair of bills to expand federal aid available for vocational training and to hold universities accountable when students can't pay back their loans, calling the ideas a "bold reform of higher education."
The first bill would "amend the Federal Pell Grant Program to support career training opportunities for young Americans," according to its description. The bill requires the Department of Education to develop "an alternative certification program" in order to allow Pell grants to go toward toward things like apprenticeships and certification programs.
How would this work? As an example, background materials from Hawley's office say a company that partnered with a local technical college to create an employee training program would be able to grow it using Pell grant dollars, which are not available now.
The second bill would impose on institutions shared responsibilities with students for their college loans. It would require colleges and universities to pay half the balance of the student loans accrued at their school if students default on them.
The current maximum award for a Pell grant, which is need-based federal assistance based on a variety of factors, is $6,195 for the current award year.
"American students and workers need more pathways into the middle class, more opportunities to get good work and build bright futures. And they shouldn't have to further enrich colleges by taking on a mountain of debt or mortgage their lives in order to get a good-paying job," Hawley said in a statement.
The senator also derided the current education system "that preferences students who want to attend a four-year college over Americans who want to learn a skill" and "protects higher education institutions that have been padding their endowments with taxpayer money while they raise tuition."
Hawley's proposal would also help correct a major problem in the United States economy: a lack of skilled tradespeople. A 2018 report at NPR delved into just how bad the labor disparity is for trade jobs in the U.S., most of which have far more vacancies than trained people to work them.
"It's time to level the playing field and provide more options for career training," Hawley's statement said. "We also must hold higher education institutions accountable that take advantage of students who rack up mountains of debt, are unable to find a good job and default on their loans."
Hawley's student loan plan stands in stark contrast to proposals put forward in the 2020 Democratic primary field. Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) have introduced loan "forgiveness" proposals in Congress, while other primary candidates have introduced their own differing loan proposals.
A recent survey of Senate Democrats, however, found most of them silent on whether or not the American taxpayer should pick up the tab for other peoples' student loans.