College affordability and workforce development are two of the biggest challenges facing our country.
Now, Arizona’s congressional delegation is leading the effort to deal with both issues. Bipartisan legislation introduced last week – the Earn to Learn Act – takes a unique approach. Modeled after Arizona’s decade-old Earn to Learn program, the legislation creates a college matched-savings system in which participating students set aside up to $500/year from their own savings in order to access up to $4,000/year in scholarship assistance. Participating students must also complete financial literacy training, and can utilize financial aid for tuition, books, fees and any other education-related expense.
“Like many Arizonans, education was my key to opportunity,” said U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), who is sponsoring the legislation along with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). “We’re responsibly reducing student-loan debt, making college more affordable, and empowering Arizona students to succeed.”
The Earn to Learn Act would be available to Pell-eligible low- and middle-income students, including adult learners. Financial assistance could be applied to qualifying colleges and universities, as well as trade schools.
U.S. House legislative sponsors include Rep. Susie Lee (D-NEV) and a trio of Arizonans: Reps. David Schweikert (R-AZ), Greg Stanton (D-AZ) and Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ). Rep. Schweikert said the bill will “expand access for students to gain a college education” and “add value to our country’s labor force.” Rep. Ciscomani noted “as a community college alumni and Pell Grant recipient, I know firsthand how life-changing access to higher education can be.”
The Earn to Learn program was founded in Arizona and has helped make college a reality for thousands of underserved and underrepresented students. Over 80% of Earn to Learn students graduate within six years, and most earn their degree with little or no student-loan debt.
Earn to Learn founder and CEO Kate Hoffman said the program “has been uplifting underserved Arizona students to reach their dreams through a college education for over a decade.”
If enacted, it is estimated the Earn to Learn Act will create 250,000 additional scholarships in the first five years. A broad and statewide coalition of community and business leaders has rallied behind the legislation to combat the worsening crisis of student-loan debt, while helping educate and train future generations for the workforce.
“Employers are starved for trained workers, especially in the high-skill industries so critical to the U.S. economy,” Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry President and CEO said. “The Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry supports programs like Earn to Learn that increase accessibility to higher education opportunities for all.”
The bill’s passage would benefit workforce development statewide.
“Northern Arizona boasts a diverse, fast-growing economy that is driving demand for trained workers,” said T. Paul Thomas, CEO of the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance. “The Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance supports the Earn to Learn Act because it will both improve college affordability and help employers access the skilled workforce they need.”