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I’m passionate about education because much of what I’ve accomplished in my life has been possible because of high-quality education; there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be the reality for all Americans. As a lifelong technologist, businessman, and attorney, I see how industries around the world have changed and require 21st century skills; I want Americans to fill these jobs.

Goal: To have the best educated workforce in the world.

Why: To continue the American tradition of being a global economic leader while promoting a vibrant middle class that shares in the fruit of prosperity, we must have the best prepared workforce in the world. There are two reasons for this. First, much like we led the post-World War II economic boom with K through 12 education for all, we must educate our kids P through C [Preschool through College] to compete in today’s global economy, with trade skill apprenticeships available for those who do not want to go to college. Second, we in America invented the Middle Class, and we believe in the ideals of a vibrant middle class and an America where parents can expect their kids to do better and live better than they did. We believe in it because it is right. Recently, our middle class has been shrinking and income inequality has skyrocketed to levels that threaten the future of our society.[1] Of course, income inequality has many causes, from the attacks on the rights of organized labor to the dislocation of jobs to the failure to have a living baseline wage. But we Americans know that recommitting to access to and affordability of a great education for all will reverse the recent trend and allow for us to be a leader in economic success and social justice that inspires countries around the world in the 21st Century, as we did in the 20th Century. This is the key to a new American Century.

How: To have the best education workforce in the world, we must implement these 5 initiatives.

1. Invest in Universal Pre-K

America needs to invest in universal Pre-K education. Here’s why: Studies consistently show that children without access to Pre-K fall behind their peers before even entering the Kindergarten classroom, which is why we must make universal Pre-K a right for all. And the math is unambiguous. In addition to increasing graduation rates, improving mental health, and reducing violent crime, every $1 invested in universal Pre-K leads to returns of $5 to $15 from increased earnings and less government spending on social welfare expenditures.[2] To close the persistent education and growing wealth gap, universal Pre-K is not only a moral imperative, but a great investment too.

2. Phase in Tuition-Free Education at Non-Profit Public Colleges and Universities.

Is this a radical idea? Not really. Many countries [Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Chile] and States [New York and Tennessee] already do it. And some considered kids going to high school at one point a radical idea, but now we take it for granted. Of course, the big question is always, how are we going to pay for it? Here’s the good news, we already are. The costs to provide every high school graduate in America with a 4-year college education to the college that accepts them would be around $80 billion a year. A lot of money, yes. But as government is apt to do, we are already spending almost that much annually through various federal programs cobbled together over time and inefficiently applied. So we certainly can phase in free higher education to lower socio-economic classes, with decreasing subsidies as income levels rise.

If you look at this logically, making sure that every student gets the opportunity to complete college without the burden of an enormous tuition bill is a no-brainer. The mathematical truth is debt-free higher education pays for itself. The average college tuition today is $20,000, so over four years, that’s an $80,000 investment. According to a report from the New York Federal Reserve, a college grad makes about $20,000 more a year than a high school graduate and the report estimates that amounts to over a million dollars more over the lifetime compared to a high school graduate.[3] That’s more than a 10-to-1 ratio, $1,000,000 vs. $80,000, based on the Fed’s estimates.[4] By the way, just the income taxes paid on that additional income over that 40-year career more than cover the government’s initial investment in their education.

Let’s break it down further. Not only do college graduates earn more money, they also have much lower unemployment rate (3.8% vs. 12.2%) and poverty rate (5.8% vs. 21.8%), and they’re less likely to be the recipients of Medicaid, and a variety of other safety net services.[5] College grads also tend to have jobs that offer retirement plans, making them better prepared for the future, and better equipped financially to deal with the unexpected events of life. And it also means we will have more people in the middle class who can spend more discretionary income – and that helps all businesses grow.

While debt-free college is critical in moving this country forward, it’s not enough. We need to make sure that students are engaged with their school and the society around them. That’s why I support a plan that would require every college student receiving a debt-free higher education to work a few hours of school and community service every week, doing good, serving their community, and getting to know their fellow citizen.

And one more point - our tax dollars must not go to scam for-profit universities like Trump University that improperly enrich greedy executives while failing America’s students. According to recent government data, students attending for-profit colleges accounted for 35 percent of student loan defaults to the federal government.[6] Furthermore, students who attend for-profit colleges have higher unemployment rates and higher debt compared to their counterparts who attended 2 or 4-year non-profit colleges or universities. Secretary DeVos and President Trump don’t care. They have dismantled rules protecting students from these for-profit colleges and universities while appointing for-profit executives to conduct oversight over these for-profit schools.[7] I will stand up to these special interests to stop them from conning our students.

The bottom line is this: Affordable college for all does not explode our deficit; instead it does the opposite by fueling strong economic growth, upward mobility, and innovation. If you believe in making sure we have the smartest and most successful young people in the world, and ensuring our country continues to be the world’s economic leader, than debt-free higher education at non-profit colleges and universities is the obvious answer.

3. Promote Trade School Apprenticeships.

While affordable access to higher education is necessary, America must also invest in apprenticeships. As automation and technology impact the middle class jobs of the past, employers know that Americans need the skills for the jobs of the future in advanced technology sectors.[8] Apprenticeships have been proven to close this gap. Unfortunately, while the importance of apprenticeships is recognized in other industrialized developed countries, they only make up a mere 2/10ths of a percent of the American workforce.[9] That’s wrong. Apprenticeships lead to high paying jobs, with earnings estimated to be $440,000 more than a high school diploma over the course of a career.[11] That’s why I strongly support the LEAP (Leveraging and Energizing America’s Apprenticeship Program) Act, which will create a $1,500 tax credit for hiring apprentices. I also want to create more flexibility in GI Bill, Trade Adjustment Act, and Pell Grant programs so they can easily apply to coursework accompanying apprenticeship programs.[12] Sadly, despite praising apprenticeships, the Trump Administration is going in the opposite direction, with a proposed FY 2018 budget that cuts 39% of the job training programs under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.[13]

4. Innovate Education.

Access to higher education is the first step. The second step is working with our teachers to innovate education to make sure our kids are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow, while using new ways to teach. That means a primary focus on a curriculum of STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts/Architecture, and Mathematics]; using emerging technologies to help deliver the educational experience; and embracing new methods of teaching. Let’s explore these three areas more in depth starting with STEAM. America is not the education superpower it once was: Internationally we rank 24th in science and 38th in math.[14] Yet STEAM careers are increasingly in demand, with higher employment growth and wages, compared to non-STEAM jobs. That is why when I’m in Congress, I will support increased funding for grants that accelerate the development of STEAM programs across the country, and one of my first actions will be to join the Congressional STEAM Caucus.

How we deliver education must change too. That means embracing AI, virtual reality, new digital distribution mediums, and other evolving technologies. Finally, we also need teach differently - the rote methodology of the manufacturing age that still dominates our schools today must be transformed. Today the key learning attributes most critical for our children to become successful are passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and grit. Developing these skills and traits are critical in the 21st century. These changes are necessary and we need to give all the resources they need to those who are on the forefront of this wave of innovation today, the great teachers of America who know what our kids need and who have the passion to transform education to make sure our children, their students, enter the world ready to solve new problems, break new ground, and do things that we never thought were possible.

Additionally, we must make sure our teachers are being paid what they deserve. For too long, our teachers have gone underpaid. We know teachers are on the front lines of developing our children and our future. I believe we must provide more resources and better pay for our educators.

5. Fix Outstanding College Debts.

While we must implement a plan to help future college students afford their education, we cannot forget the over 44 million Americans, including 4 out of 10 under the age of 30, who are struggling to pay off excessive student loans. According to the Federal Reserve, this increase in student loans has led to a decrease in home ownership.[15] Studies consistently show that student debt deters the creation of new small businesses, which account for 99 percent of American businesses. These are the direct effect from what economists called debt overhang. A recent study shows that high student debt will cost 2015 college graduates $684,474 in lost retirement savings, leading to retirement at age 75.[16] We must address this. To start, the federal government should allow borrowers to refinance their loans at current interest rates. Further, we should encourage businesses that help employees pay of their student loans by offering payroll tax deductions. Entrepreneurs should be able to apply for a 4-year deferment (with no accrued interest) so they can focus on starting their business and have a break from worrying about increasing student loans.

With these 5 initiatives in place, the societal advancements our country - and our world - needs can be achieved through education. Curing diseases, combatting global warming, and ending world hunger – all of these possibilities require the brightest minds of our time. If all Americans have access to the opportunity of education, I am confident we can make huge strides in making our world a better place.


















Washington is in desperate need of real, meaningful, and lasting change.
Our country and our people deserve better.

Meet Harley Rouda