August 5, 2014
The Arizona Republic
Matt Salmon

Salmon: We've allowed our higher education system to become stagnant. My bill will help shake it up.

Education has changed drastically over the years.

Through various regulations and requirements, we've allowed our education system to become stagnant. Far from being the gateway to success it once was, much of today's higher education system treats students as commodities to be processed through an assembly line.

While they were once faced with limitless possibilities, today's graduates receive a crushing burden of debt with their diploma that meets or exceeds the cost of a mortgage in many cities.

In response to these challenges, the federal government has sought to address access to education. Unfortunately, with every effort to increase students' access to education, including the funds they needed to pay for it, the cost of that education rose. Since 1985, college costs have risen 500 percent and the average national tuition this past year was just over $30,000. In Arizona, that's 62 percent of the median annual income.

The "credit hour" is the key component in receiving federal funds for education. Students who already have the knowledge they would gain from a particular course must still spend their time and money attending that class. Receiving no real benefit, students aren't inspired to achieve, but rather to accumulate credit hours and the conjunctive debt that makes starting a life after graduation impossibly difficult.

Veterans and non-traditional students find this system especially problematic. Many of our nation's returning veterans lack a college degree, yet have skills that make them a valuable asset in many fields.

Non-traditional students include those who return to school with the goal of getting a better job after spending years in the workforce. With years of practical experience, forcing them to undertake and pay for coursework that is less challenging than their daily job duties is silly.

Last year, I introduced a bipartisan bill which would give future generations a better way to address the problems of access, affordability and utility of education. Last month, H.R. 3136, the Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act, passed the House of Representatives unanimously, and it's easy to see why. Democrat or Republican, we all want our children to be successful in school and in life.

This bill gets government out of the way and lets schools explore new and innovative ways to deliver education, measure quality and disburse financial aid based on actual learning. It will also allow colleges to provide academic credit to students who can prove competencies through prior work and life experiences as well as their own hard work.

The purpose of an education is the accumulation of knowledge and skills, not semesters and loans. This bill provides the thoughtful innovation our educators and students have been asking for, and in Washington's gridlock, only the strongest bills get unanimous, bipartisan support.

Even the president has indicated his support for this bill, and I'm hopeful that the Senate takes quick action to get the bill into his hands so he can sign it. This is a bill I'm proud of, and this is a bill Congress can be proud of.

Rep. Matt Salmon, a Republican, represents the Southeast Valley in Congress.

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