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Mr. ENZI: Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Higher Education Affordability, Access and Opportunity Act of 2004 with my colleagues Senators Baucus, Alexander, Dole and Lieberman.

We are introducing this bipartisan legislation because we are aware that the American workforce is in the midst of its most significant changes since the 1940s. In the past year, this economy has created nearly 1.7 million new jobs, yet the complaint from employers continues to be that they cannot find skilled workers to fill the jobs that are being created. Our educational systems must recognize this changing reality and be ready to provide the support for a new group of students that represents a workforce revolution.

This skills gap promises to get worse unless Congress acts now to provide the assistance necessary to train a generation of workers that will fill the jobs of tomorrow. The Department of Labor has estimated that as many as 80 percent of the jobs being created over the next 10 years will require some postsecondary education. This will include many adult learners who will return to college for additional training. This also includes new students attending college for the first time later in life to obtain new skills or to improve their current skills.

Congress needs to ensure that we have a comprehensive system of workforce education and training established, one that includes the Workforce Investment Act, the Higher Education Act, and career and technical education, as well as elementary and secondary education. The needs of the new workforce will require a lifelong commitment to learning, where workers are able to return to school and re-enter the workforce seamlessly.

Many workers in my home state are leaving to find better jobs elsewhere. To create the kind of good jobs with good futures that will keep people in Wyoming, we need workers with the skills that the new, global economy demands. Whether a company decides to open a plant in Casper or China, they depend on a qualified local workforce.

This legislation would help meet the needs of businesses today and into the future. It would help postsecondary institutions develop and implement curriculum related to high-skilled or high-wage occupations. It would also provide support for institutions to increase their capacity to serve adult learners and students pursuing high-growth occupations.

This legislation would provide additional assistance for first-time college students who are attending school to receive advanced skill training or are looking to improve their skill set to enter high-wage or high-skilled occupations.

This legislation also provides support for small business owners, operators, and their employees to receive skill training at institutions of higher education so our small businesses can continue to lead the economic growth of our nation.

This legislation also provides important support for rural communities to recruit and retrain elementary and secondary education, so these areas can prepare their students for college and entry into the workforce with the skills they need to succeed, not only in postsecondary education, but in life.

This legislation also helps students better understand the cost of attending college by making the information collected by the Department of Education more accessible. Helping prospective students understand how to obtain aid and help pay for college is just as important as making sure students have access to the financial aid to support them through college.

I look forward to working with Chairman Gregg to advance these ideas to ensure that the American workforce is prepared with the skills necessary to successfully compete in the global economy.

Thank you Mr. President.