College is the best investment in America’s future. It is fundamental to our economic growth.

There are many investments we can choose to make the future more secure. But one investment in particular gives back high returns: a college education.

America is focused on the nation’s economic recovery. The strength of our nation depends on the strength of our people, who strongly believe that a college degree is the key to achieving their education, training, and employment goals. The increase in the number of Pell Grant recipients over the last few years demonstrates that the federal investment in student aid pays off—workers know they can retool their skills to get better jobs with the help of federal student aid.

America’s knowledge-based economy will require more college graduates. Its economic concerns will be met through highly trained innovators.

Each additional year of education is estimated to increase real economic output by 5 percent to as much as 20 percent. This relationship will only grow stronger in the future. Over the next decade, more than two-thirds of the 46.8 million new jobs created in our knowledge-based economy will require postsecondary education; yet, experts project that the United States will fall short by millions of workers. To meet this demand, we have to ensure that all Americans have the education and training they need.

As America redoubles its efforts to strengthen the economy, Congress should make increased funding for the student aid programs a key part of achieving these national priorities. Well-educated and trained Americans have long used their knowledge, skills, and creativity to defend our nation’s economic growth through innovations in science, technology, and industry.

America is a powerful nation. If we are to remain strong, we need to reinvigorate the federal government’s commitment to proven student aid programs, which give motivated students, regardless of background, the opportunity to grow individually and contribute to society’s well being.

Investing in federal student aid will ensure that every student has the opportunity to excel.

At a time when college enrollment is projected to skyrocket, and state budget cuts are driving up college prices, federal funding levels that don’t keep pace with inflation leave low- and middle-income students nowhere to turn. The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance reports that during the current decade, between 1.4 million and 2.4 million bachelor’s degrees will likely be lost to students who are academically prepared for college. Their only barrier will be a lack of resources. As the nation sees an increase an college-qualified students, more of them will have to rely on federal student aid programs to help them achieve their dreams.

While the federal government’s spending on student aid is less than 1 percent of the federal budget, it is absolutely vital. Continued increases in the maximum Pell Grant award, and increased funding for the campus-based programs—SEOG, Federal Work-Study, and Perkins Loans—are essential to meet the needs of this growing student population.

Student aid pays for itself by stimulating the economy, expanding the tax base, and increasing productivity.

There are many competing priorities for funding across the government, and limited resources to deal with them. But if we are serious about revitalizing our economy and producing a skilled workforce for the future, it is hard to think of any other investment with as good as a return as higher education. And if we are truly committed to K-12 reform, we have to be equally serious about making sure that the funding for federal student aid grows to accommodate these students.