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Business Group Backs Expanding Access to Aid

June 13, 2019

Ginni Rometty, the chair, president and CEO of IBM, told reporters Wednesday that a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act should open eligibility for federal student aid to more programs, especially those that serve more part-time and midcareer students.

“Skills matter as much as a degree,” Rometty said. “The only way to a good-paying job cannot be a four-year degree.”

At a Business Roundtable event where the group’s Board of Directors discussed priorities for trade and education, Rometty reiterated arguments she has made elsewhere that Congress should broaden the kinds of students served by federal aid programs.

In addition to opening eligibility for Title IV funds, she said that Federal Work-Study should be expanded and that more students should be placed in private sector employment through the program. And Rometty argued that federal apprenticeships should be expanded as well.

The federal government spends about $130 billion on student aid programs each year, including Pell Grants, student loans and work-study. Rometty said that Roundtable leaders don’t necessarily want to add to that figure but to change the composition of students served by federal aid programs.

“With the advent of a digital economy, we need to be sure it doesn't become divisive and that there is a have and a have-not -- that there is one group of people who will benefit tremendously but a very large group that might not benefit,” she said of higher education policies.

Rometty said the Roundtable supported accountability measures alongside expanded student aid eligibility and suggested programs could be judged using metrics like job placement.

Expanding Pell Grants to short-term programs (it currently pays for those as short as 15 weeks) has long been a priority of the Roundtable. But skeptics say that many short-term training programs don't improve graduates' earning power.

Rometty's comments reflected frequent themes touted by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has said that the federal government should support more pathways to higher education beyond a four-year college degree.

In comments at a Wall Street Journal event this week, DeVos said there has been a “giant silo between business and education for too long.” She also said businesses should shoulder more of the burden for training workers.

Last month, she announced a federal experiment to encourage colleges to find private sector employment for work-study students by lifting some program requirements.

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