June 28, 2005 — Report

Equal access to quality education is fundamental to American society. This general principle has very practical implications. Studies consistently show that education is one of the most important indicators of economic status in our society. Education after high school is more than just a fulfilling experience; it is often the difference between basic financial independence and poverty.

In order to promote educational opportunities, the government has opened up federal financial assistance program over the years to the neediest students, including many students attending vocational schools. The motivations for these policies are generally laudable. And in many cases, federal funds have given students unprecedented access to higher education.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story. Federal aid for education can become an insurmountable burden rather than a benefit. This is especially true in the for-profit higher education sector where all too often, schools prey on vulnerable students’ dreams of betterment through education. As a result, the financial assistance that was intended to help these students does little more than bury them in debt.

As Congress debates the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, it is more important than ever to ensure that the dream of accessible higher education can be a reality. In a time when the American workforce is aging, with college-educated baby boomers retiring, and too few new skilled workers to meet business needs, it is essential that vocational education teach real skills and provide a true gateway to employment.