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July 21, 1998

Education Legislation Helps Career Schools

Expanding educational opportunities for Pennsylvania citizens, and in particular for lower income citizens, is one of my top legislative priorities.  As we approach the second anniversary of the passage of the welfare reform law, (The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996), it is useful to recall that the welfare rolls are rapidly decreasing.  This decrease, in turn, creates a large population of low-income individuals who require job training, as well as other social and economic support structures, in order to become genuinely self-sufficient.

Career or proprietary schools often provide the best opportunities for many, including those just leaving the welfare rolls, to obtain the specialized skills they will need in the workforce.  Regrettably, it is often just such schools which have difficulty keeping their doors open.  Student loan default rates are disproportionately high among the very population of students these schools seek to serve.  A high default rate threatens the ability of these schools, which usually operate on a tight budget, to remain open.  Federal regulations have established a default rate threshold over which a school cannot go without the risk of closure.  Because of the need these schools fill, I am committed to developing legislative vehicles which provide the critical support they require.

An example of one such career school that was almost compelled to close is the Berean Institute, the oldest African American educational institution in Philadelphia.   Because of its high student loan default rates, it lost its certification.   With the help of my office and public officials throughout Pennsylvania, it regained its standing.  Sadly, however, it remains one of the few career schools left in the city.

In light of my long-term commitment to assist those transitioning from welfare to work, I authored three key provisions, recently included in this year's higher education reauthorization bill, which will facilitate the ability of career schools to remain open while they attempt to resolve the problem of significant student loan defaults.

Since the inception of the well-intentioned, but misguided "War on Poverty" thirty years ago, our way of thinking about poverty and the poor has fundamentally changed.  The new welfare law reflects this change - as should subsequent social legislation.  Public policy solutions are becoming more manifold and integrated so that they work together in a compounding manner toward specific social goals - among them, work retention.  The specific provisions in the higher education bill help to address the need for an underserved population to acquire the professional skills that lead to permanent employment.

Similarly, several months ago, Senator Specter and I authored legislation to provide funding for "reverse commuting" - that is, commuting from the city to the suburbs.  Funding "reverse commute" transportation assists inner-city residents in traveling to the outlying suburbs where jobs and career schools are more plentiful.

Creating a law, such as the welfare reform act, that offers incentives for people to become more self-sufficient was a crucial step in re-formulating our public policy response to the poor, but it was only one step.  Providing tools, such as job training and access to transportation, are equally crucial components of our efforts.

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