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Workers without a college degree are disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 job losses

Economic recessions impact workers across all industries. But adult workers with no postsecondary education have historically suffered the most from job losses during a recession and take the longest to fully recover compared to those with college degrees. And with state budget shortfalls projected to be worse than during the Great Recession, federal and state stimulus investments must support the reskilling needs of adult learners.

Educational attainment of unemployed workers

Unemployment rates for workers across all levels of educational attainment increased substantially due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but workers without a college degree have been disproportionately impacted. In February 2020 – the official start of the recession – unemployment rates for adult workers age 25 and over with no high school diploma were nearly three times higher than four-year degree holders. By June, average unemployment rates for adult workers across all educational attainment levels had declined, but workers with less than a high school diploma (16.6%) and those with only a high school diploma (12.1%) still remained above average (11.1%).

State stay-at-home orders magnified these effects. Workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher (37%) were already more likely to work from home than those with only a high school diploma (16%), according to the American Time Use Survey conducted by the Census Bureau. Yet not all workers who can work from home do so. Recent job-level analyses on the ability to telework show that while 2 in 3 workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher could work from home, only 1 in 10 workers with less than a high school diploma and 1 in 4 workers with only a high school diploma held jobs that supported teleworking, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Working adults need access to upskilling opportunities – and the wraparound services to support their success – to compete for in-demand and any new jobs created by federal stimulus bills. A new report found that many workers looking to change careers say they’d need to reskill in order to do so, and only 4 in 10 workers with a high school diploma or less have access to the education and training they want to pursue.

Defining quality non-degree credentials

When displaced workers do look to pursue training, recent survey results show that it is likely to be in a non-degree program to acquire the skills they need for work, or to obtain a certificate or license. This public sentiment reinforces the need to define what makes a quality credential, so that students and adult learners have a clear and successful pathway to better jobs and avoid predatory training providers that leave students with debt and an unmarketable credential.

This spring, National Skills Coalition launched a Quality Postsecondary Credential Policy Academy to assist 6 states in adopting a consensus definition of quality non-degree credentials. A quality definition must be informed by transparent evidence of the value of a credential to meet the needs of employers, a public process that includes input by key stakeholders, and it must position the student to make informed decisions about their education and employment goals. A quality assurance process can also benefit states who need a way to effectively and efficiently allocate limited federal and state training dollars.

Key criteria for defining quality non-degree credentials, include:

  • Evidence of substantial job opportunities associated with the credential. While what is considered “substantial” will vary by state or region, quantitative data and employer feedback must aid in evaluating the market demand for the occupation(s) the credential is associated with. Use of real-time labor market data, existing sector partnerships, or emerging industries that represent a regional economic development strategy are all potential data sources to inform labor demand.

  • Evidence that competencies are mastered by credential holders. Rather than fulfill a standard number of hours or credits, the student should demonstrate proficiency – often validated by a third-party, like a certifying or licensing body – on the learning outcomes required for the credential and valued by the employer to perform the occupation.

  • Evidence of the employment and earnings outcomes of individuals after obtaining the credential. In short, it is key to accurately track and record outcomes to ensure that the credential provides individuals with the means to achieve their employment goal. Making these outcomes available to students to support their decision-making process is encouraged, as is disaggregating outcomes data to ensure racially equitable attainment.

  • Credential stackability is also a preferred addition to a quality non-degree credential definition, especially during an economic recovery where short-term training for an in-demand job may be necessary for an individual to find a quick route to stable employment, while also providing an on-ramp to a career pathway.

How workforce advocates can get involved

Displaced workers without a college degree need access to federal and state job training programs or financial aid to support short-term, market-driven upskilling. The White House-led American Workforce Policy Advisory Board issued a call-to action in May that supported extending federal financial aid to short-term training programs aligned with the needs of employers to expedite reconnecting displaced workers to businesses who face a shortage of qualified talent and modernize American education and training.

State workforce agencies can also apply for the Department of Education’s Reimagining Workforce Preparation grants, from funds authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These grants support the creation or expansion of short-term education and training programs aligned with the needs of workers and industry. States must work to develop quality assurance mechanisms and make publicly available the credentials and competencies delivered under the grant. A recent NSC blog detailed this grant announcement and its key requirements.

Take action and join our coalition to stay engaged on how you can support the reskilling needs of American workers to participate fully in the economic recovery.

Posted In: Career and Technical Education

Skills training helps veterans find stable careers

  ·   By The Voices for Skills Team
Skills training helps veterans find stable careers

Every year, 200,000 service members transition to civilian careers, yet 41% of veterans say they didn’t feel well prepared to enter the job market after returning from active duty.

Skills training, however, can help veterans find good paying jobs in growing industries like manufacturing, IT, and healthcare. Our new nationwide poll shows that veterans are almost unanimous in their belief that skills training would benefit them (92%) and that expanding skills training would benefit vets (64%) more than workers generally (52%).

Skills training and work-based learning programs are already changing the lives of vets across the country. After 14 years on active duty, U.S. Army veteran Arthur “Patt” Patterson enrolled in an apprenticeship program offered by Minneapolis-based company Ajax Metal Forming Solutions. In just under six years, Patt went from filling boxes to supervising a team of machining experts.

95% of veterans strongly support increased investment in skills training, and 86% believe that we should invest in skills and technical training at the same level we invest in college. As we take time to honor our nation's military, let us also reflect on what we can do to better support veterans returning to the civilian workforce.

You can become a #VoiceForSkills today at

Posted In: Work Based Learning, Career and Technical Education
Chairman Alexander introduces party-line bill containing key HEA reauthorization provisions

On September 26th, 2019, Senator Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, introduced the Student Aid Improvement Act of 2019 (S. 2557). In addition to permanently preserving funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), the bill contains piecemeal Higher Education Act related provisions, including those that would extend Pell grant eligibility to students enrolled in short-term programs, reinstate Pell grant eligibility to incarcerated students, simplify the FAFSA application process and slightly increase the maximum Pell grant award. 

While comprehensive HEA reauthorization is a legislative priority shared by key policymakers in the House and Senate as well as the White House, the Student Aid Improvement Act has been met with skepticism, as it ties recently expired MSI funding to narrow HEA reauthorization language. Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member, Patty Murray (D-WA), has not agreed to consider S. 2557 and has instead called for a clean passage of the FUTURE Act (H.R. 2486), a bipartisan bill unanimously approved by the House of Representatives on September 17th, which would extend funding for MSIs through FY 2021, and does not include the piecemeal HEA related provisions included in Sen. Alexander’s bill.   

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee has also urged the Senate to take up the FUTURE Act in its current form, rather than tying it to HEA reauthorization language. Chairman Scott plans to introduce a comprehensive HEA reauthorization bill this month for consideration by the Education and Labor Committee.  

Chairman Alexander, a former Department of Education Secretary, is set to retire from the Senate at the end of this Congress and has been vocal about his desire to pass HEA legislation before the end of his term. While National Skills Coalition enthusiastically supports modernizing federal postsecondary policies so that they work for today’s students, the Student Aid Improvement Act, in its current form, misses the mark on quality assurance, data transparency and other NSC postsecondary policy priorities. 

The Student Aid Improvement Act would: 

Extend Federal Pell grants to students enrolled in short-term education and training programs, but stops short of key provisions found in bipartisan JOBS Act 

Under the Student Aid Improvement Act, students enrolled in short-term education or training programs at any institution of higher education, including private, for-profit institutions would qualify for a Pell grant, so long as the program was at least 150 clock hours over 8 weeks of instruction. This provision would be a significant change to current law, which limits Pell eligibility to students enrolled in programs that are at least 600 clock hours over 15 weeks of instruction.  

While NSC is encouraged by the Chairman’s intent to include students in short-term programs in Pell grant eligibility, the language in the Student Aid Improvement Act differs significantly from the NSC-supported JOBS Act (S. 839, H.R. 3497) —a bipartisan, bicameral measure which would thoughtfully adjust Pell-eligibility parameters to better meet the needs of today’s students. The JOBS Act, which is led by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) as well as Representatives Richmond (D-LA-02), Levin (D-MI-09), Horsford (D-NV-04), Gonzalez (R-OH-16), Herrera Beutler (R-WA-03), and Katko (R-NY-24), would also extend Pell eligibility to short-term programs that are at least 150 clock hours over 8 weeks, but does so within a strong quality assurance framework that aims to shield students from poor-performing programs.  

The JOBS Act has over 55 House and Senate co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle and has also been included in the President’s FY19 and FY20 budget requests. Additionally, this bipartisan bill, which is one of four policy priorities that make up NSC’s Community College Compact, is strongly supported by approximately 1/3 of all state community and technical college systems as well as small and mid-size business leaders and likely 2020 voters

The JOBS Act includes important provisions missing from the Student Aid Improvement Act. The JOBS Act would:  

  • Limit Pell grant eligibility to short-term programs that are offered at public, non-profit institutions. The bipartisan JOBS Act limits institutional participation to public, non-profit institutions, while the Chairman’s bill allows all IHEs to participate—including private, for-profit institutions. As an organization that works closely with community and technical college leaders across the U.S., we strongly believe in their dedication to student protection and quality assurance and urge the Chairman to limit short-term Pell eligibility to public institutions. 


  • Require participating institutions to be on the WIOA Eligible Training Provider List. Under the JOBS Act, in order for public institutions to offer Pell grants to students attending short-term programs, they must be on their state’s WIOA Eligible Training Provider List (ETPL). Under WIOA, eligible training providers are responsible for reporting outcomes data related to the individuals they serve on a yearly basis to the Department of Labor, allowing state and federal policymakers, program participants and training providers to gain insight into the effectiveness of these programs. 


While Chairman Alexander’s bill requires participating institutions to demonstrate outcomes in line with the WIOA common indicator framework, it does not require institutions to be on their state’s eligible training provider list. This approach to outcomes reporting lacks specificity around oversight and enforcement responsibility, leaving interpretation to the Education Department should the Chairman’s bill become law. 

  • Direct accreditors to adopt a process for evaluating newly eligible short-term programs. As an additional quality assurance mechanism for newly Pell-eligible programs, the JOBS Act sets forth a framework that accreditors can use to evaluate short-term education and training programs for content and quality. The Chairman’s bill does not clearly define the role of accreditors in evaluating short-term programs. 


  • Require participating institutions to adopt articulation agreement language. The JOBS Act directs participating institutions to put articulation agreements in place for students enrolled in short-term programs. This provision will help ensure that students who wish to continue in a longer-term certificate or degree pathway upon completion of their short-term program will not face additional roadblocks to success. The Student Aid Improvement Act does not contain articulation language. 


In addition to expanding Pell to short-term programs, the Student Aid Improvement Act includes a range of legislative priorities with varying degrees of bipartisan support in the Senate, including: 


Extension of Pell grants to incarcerated students eligible for parole 

More than 20 years ago, the federal government placed a ban on access to Pell grants for incarcerated individuals. However, in 2015, the Obama Administration announced the Second Chance Pell pilot program, which restored Pell eligibility for an estimated 12,000 students in more than 100 correctional facilities. This initiative has led to a groundswell of bipartisan support among policymakers, the current Administration and education and workforce advocates for the expansion of Second Chance Pell.  

Notably, a comprehensive publication recently released by NSC entitled “The Roadmap for Racial Equity: An imperative for workforce development advocates,” highlights the role of workforce training and education in addressing racial employment, income and wealth disparities and urges Congress to permanently restore Pell grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals.  

The Student Aid Improvement Act aims to address this issue by restoring grant aid for incarcerated students who are eligible for parole but would not lift the ban for all incarcerated individuals. 

Simplification of the FAFSA application and eligibility process 

Simplifying the process for students filling out the FAFSA—a form completed by current and prospective college students to determine their eligibility for federal student aid—has been a long-standing priority of Chairman Alexander’s. The Student Aid Improvement Act reduces the number of questions on the FAFSA from 108 to 17-30 and restructures the needs analysis formula for students by replacing Expected Family Contribution (EFC) with a simplified Student Aid Index, which would qualify students for Pell eligibility by considering their family size and adjusted gross income. 

The Chairman’s bill would also auto-approve applicants for maximum Pell Grants if they qualify for means-tested benefits, such as SNAP, TANF or Medicaid, or if they are not required by the IRS to file a tax return as a result of their income level. The Student Aid Improvement Act also includes income protection allowance tables for students, student parents, and parents of students, which will allow more individuals to qualify for federal aid. 

Slight increase for maximum Pell grant awards 

The Chairman’s bill also contains a $20 increase to the maximum Pell grant award.  While Pell grant increases of any amount are largely welcomed by students and advocates, many feel this small change will do little to help students cover the rising cost of education.  A comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act would make a meaningful investment in the Pell grant program a stronger possibility. 

Notably, to garner more support for the Student Aid Improvement Act before it is considered on the Senate floor, Chairman Alexander has signaled his intent to attach additional bipartisan priorities to the bill, including the College Transparency Act (S.800, H.R. 1766). The College Transparency Act, which is also a component of NSC’s Community College Compact would arm students, employers, educators and parents with the data they need to make informed decisions regarding education and training. It is currently being led by Senators Warren (D-MA) and Cassidy (R-LA), as well as Representatives Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08) and Mitchell (R-MI-10).  

While NSC sees the introduction of the Student Aid Improvement Act as a step toward improving federal higher education policy, we urge House and Senate leadership to work together to pass thoughtful, comprehensive postsecondary legislation that protects students and ensures their success in today’s economy.  

Posted In: Higher Education Access, Career and Technical Education
Twelve community and technical college systems band together to call on Congress to adopt a job-driven Community College Compact for today’s students

Today, education leaders from twelve community and technical college systems across the country—including those in Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington—sent letters to federal policymakers, urging them to make higher education policy more responsive to the needs of today’s students.

The letters, which were sent to Senate HELP Committee and House Education and Labor Committee leadership, call for the adoption of a job-driven Community College Compact; a set of postsecondary policy proposals developed by National Skills Coalition (NSC) and vetted by a range of stakeholders, including academic institutions, employers, community-based organizations and workforce development boards. If adopted by Congress, these policies would increase access to high-quality education and training programs, crucial support services and transparent information regarding postsecondary programs for students of all ages and backgrounds. Likely 2020 voters and business leaders also strongly support the Compact policies, as demonstrated by recent polling conducted by ALG Research on behalf of NSC.

Community and technical college leaders are voicing their shared support for the Community College Compact in light of the impending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA, which is the most comprehensive federal law governing postsecondary institutions and programs, has been eligible for reauthorization by Congress since 2008. Senate HELP Committee Chairman, Lamar Alexander, and Ranking Member, Patty Murray, as well as House Education and Labor Committee Chairman, Bobby Scott, and Ranking Member, Virginia Foxx, have expressed interest in reauthorizing this sweeping legislation before the end of this Congress. Additionally, the White House has named the modernization of the Higher Education Act as one of its top priorities.

The letters urge federal policymakers to consider the following policy changes:

Eliminate the bias against working learners in need of federal financial aid

In today’s economy, approximately 80 percent of all jobs require some form of education or training, and more than 50 percent of jobs can be classified as “middle-skill”—meaning they call for more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree. As a result, community and technical colleges are working to increase access to high quality, short-term programs that lead to in-demand credentials. However, most federal financial aid available today is reserved for students who are enrolled in programs of study that are at least 600 clock hours over 15 weeks—an outdated policy that fails to account for the training needs of individuals in our 21st century economy.

Therefore, community and technical college leaders are urging lawmakers to consider legislation—such as the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 839; H.R. 3497 ) led by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Richmond (D-LA-02), Levin (D-MI-09), Horsford (D-NV-04), Gonzalez (R-OH-16), Herrera-Beutler (R-WA-03) and Katko (R-NY-24)—that would expand Pell grant eligibility to students enrolled in high-quality education and training programs that are at least 150 clock hours of instruction over 8 weeks.

Make higher education and workforce outcomes data comprehensive and transparent

Since higher education is becoming more closely linked with finding success in the labor market, data about the outcomes of postsecondary programs should be available to students, parents, employers and policymakers. However, as community and technical college leaders note in their letters, existing legal restrictions on the collection of student-level data continue to hinder the accessibility of this important information.

To help provide consumers with better data and relieve institutions of duplicative reporting requirements, community and technical college administrators called for action on the College Transparency Act (S.800; H.R. 1766). Introduced by Senators Warren (D-MA), Cassidy (R-LA), Whitehouse (D-RI) and Scott (R-SC) and Representatives Mitchell (R-MI-10), Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), Stefanik (R-NY-21) and Harder (D-CA-10), this bipartisan bill aims to establish a secure, privacy-protected postsecondary student level data network administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), to which colleges would be able to safely and easily report their data. The data would then be available as a decision-making tool for current and prospective students—making it easier for individuals to improve their lives through education and training.

Ensure the success of today’s college students by strengthening support services

Due to the diversity of the student populations they serve, community and technical college leaders recognize the growing importance of support services such as career counseling, childcare and transportation assistance. While states and higher education administrators across the country are working hard to implement career pathway models that provide nontraditional students with the services they need to succeed in the postsecondary education system, their efforts receive little support at the federal level.

To address this issue, community and technical college leaders are calling for the consideration of the Gateway to Careers Act (S. 1117)—legislation introduced by Senators Hassan (D-NH), Young (R-IN), Kaine (D-VA) and Gardner (R-CO). This bipartisan bill would make federal funding available on a competitive basis to institutions that are working in partnership to serve students experiencing barriers to postsecondary access and completion.

Provide targeted funding for valuable partnerships between community colleges and businesses

Community and technical college leaders work with industry stakeholders every day to provide high-quality training and academic instruction to future workers through sector partnerships. However, Congress has not invested in these partnerships at a scale that would sustain economic competitiveness since the expiration of the Trade Adjustment Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program in FY 2014. The purpose of the TAAACT grant program, which allocated $2 billion in funding to states from FY 2011-2014, was to increase the capacity of community colleges to address the challenges of today’s workforce through job training for adults and other nontraditional students.

Due to the proven impact of community college-business partnerships, community and technical college leaders are calling for the consideration of legislation that would expand and support these collaboratives, an example of which is the Community College to Career Fund in Higher Education Act (S. 1612; H.R. 2920). Introduced by Senators Duckworth (D-IL), Smith (D-MN), Feinstein (D-CA), Durbin (D-IL), Shaheen (D-NH), Van Hollen (D-MD) and Representative Kelly (D-IL-02), this legislation aims to provide academic institutions and businesses with competitive grant funding so that they can continue to work together to deliver valuable educational or career training programs to students and workers.

Read the letter to the Senate HELP Committee and House Education and Labor Committee, as well as letters of support from Arkansas and Washington.

Posted In: Transportation, Federal Funding, Career and Technical Education, Sector Partnerships, Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington
Multiple DOL announcements to expand Industry Recognized Apprenticeships with proposed regulations and grant announcements

Earlier this week, the administration took several next steps to expand their industry recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs), providing important guidance to states and practitioners implementing the new process.  

On June 24th and 25th, the Department of Labor (DOL) 

These announcements offer insight inside administration actions– the regulations offer new details into SREs and IRAP programs, but still need additional work to be operationalized, such as ensuring a role for small businesses in the process, requiring SREs collect and report on vital performance measures, and distinguishing the activities programs will be tasked with as compared to that of the SRE/oversight entity.  

At the same time, many of the systems awarded funds this week to implement the new program, represent forward thinking, effective community and technical colleges systems that lead their peers in establishing alignment between higher education and workforce programs. 

The new funding availability offers safeguards to ensure funding continues to go to good programs – applicants are required to show an “apprenticeship partnership” comprised of education and businesses and other workforce and education stakeholders in a local area. Applications also must include a plan for using funds to provide support services to program participants to ensure their success – often the biggest financial lift for entities attempting to expand programs to workers with the most need for these supports.  

Background on Industry Recognized Apprenticeship 

Since a 2017 Executive Order intended to create this new IRAP system, DOL convened a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, comprised of Governors, leaders from businesses and business associations, representatives of education providers and education associations, Labor leaders, and other interested stakeholders. The Task Force’s work culminated in a report to the President in May of 2018, that set forward several recommendations to expand apprenticeship, including aligning apprenticeship with educational opportunities, marketing opportunities to workers and providing business engagement assistance particularly in industries in which apprenticeship is not well utilized, and repeated a call for disinvestment in other workforce training strategies.  

Following the report from the task force, DOL released the first iteration of a Training and Employment Notice (TEN) that described the role of what the agency now calls Standards Recognition Entities (SREs), third party entities like business associations who will serve in an oversight role and recognize industry-recognized apprenticeship programs as meeting standards necessary to address business demand for skilled workers. The TEN released this week would update this 2018 TEN.  

In November of 2018, DOL solicited comments on the information it would collect from SREs, releasing a draft of the form an SRE would need to submit to DOL in order to be recognized for the SRE designation. NSC submitted a set of comments individually and in partnership with other national organizations, recommending DOL collect information that would empower small and mid-size companies to fully participate in the IRAP system, urging DOL to require SREs to release and disaggregate outcomes data and recognizing the importance of local, industry-led partnerships and career pathways to success of both business and workers in implementing a new work-based learning system.  

Over the past six months, Secretary Acosta has spoken optimistically about progress towards rolling out the new system, but this week’s series of announcements were the first tangible step of 2019.  

IRAP Proposed Regulations 

Published on June 25th in the Federal Register, DOL is soliciting comments due August 23rd on their proposed amendments to 29 CFR 29, the portion of the Code of Federal Regulations that currently governs registered apprenticeship programs. The proposed regs would largely leave existing regs untouched, except for adding provisions around IRAP.   

The proposed regulations explicitly recognize that industry recognized programs under would not automatically qualify for the priority status registered programs enjoy in other workforce and education programs, such as automatic eligibility for a state Eligible Training Provider List under WIOA or application of Davis-Bacon provisions as applied to programs registered under the National Apprenticeship Act. 

Standards Recognition Entities (SRE) 

The proposed regs detail who can become an SRE, including business associations, local agencies, educational institutions, community-based organizations, unions, labor management partnerships or a consortium of those entities. To qualify, entities must show expertise in an industry necessary to evaluate training, structure and curricula of programs and capacity to assess program quality, defined as ensuring programs meet the definition of industry recognized programs offered below. Programs would be recognized for five years.   

In the proposed regs, DOL recognizes that there may be hundreds of SREs across occupations, industries and regions and solicits comments on the best way to encourage diverse set of entities to seek recognition as SREs.  

Consistent with task force recommendations, and those from labor unions in the construction industry, DOL proposes limiting SREs from recognizing military or construction apprenticeships. DOL bases this restriction on the concentration of apprentices within these areas – 48% of registered programs are in the construction industry and 32% are military apprenticeships. DOL proposes sunsetting this restriction, such as in five years, as industry recognized programs grow and this representation across the two apprenticeship systems evens out across industries.  

Once recognized by DOL, these entities are tasked with reporting on completion of program participants and recognizing programs in a timely manner. SREs would be required to publicly release data on each program it recognizes:  

  1. Contact information for entity running the program 

  1. Number of apprentices enrolled 

  1. Completion rate  

  1. Median length of a program 

  1. Post-apprenticeship employment rate.  

The regulations solicit comment on the importance of DOL requiring SREs to collect, and make publicly available, additional data about recognized programs. Earlier guidance from DOL suggested intended alignment between data collection SREs would be tasked with and WIOA performance measures, but the proposed data collection in the draft regs would not rise to the standards of WIOA or those recommended in the past by NSC and our partners.  

DOL solicits comments on whether additional data, such as that on participants’ post-program earnings, should be released to enable DOL to evaluate program success and the most efficient approach by which SREs can collect this data and share with DOL.  

The regulations largely focus on the role of SREs, leaving the oversight of program structure and delivery to an SRE to evaluate. In some ways this furthers DOL’s goal of removing the federal government from oversight of a program, but it also creates a certain level of confusion over the role an SRE would play when compared with the entity running an industry-recognized program. For example, an SRE would be tasked with doing outreach to participants to ensure EEO opportunities for all workers in programs the SRE recognizes. In practice, however, it’s difficult to see the incentive for or ability of an oversight or accrediting entity in recruitment on behalf of a business or education provider, who would presumably have the connections in a community to reach a broader set of participants.  

DOL does recognize entities that help businesses or local areas implement or run programs may serve as SREs and requires SREs to submit information that this technical assistance role will not influence their role as an SRE, and solicits comments on how to best implement this firewall.  

Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs 

They proposed rule does, however, define the types of programs an SRE can recognize. To be eligible for recognition, a program must include:  

  1. Training for a job that “require[s] specialized knowledge and experience.DOL is soliciting comments on whether it should set a competency baseline for programs that meet this standard, and if the phrase, “progressively advancing” is an adequate definition of the types of skills someone would develop under industry recognized programs.  

  1. Structured work experience coupled with classroom or training related instruction necessary to earn industry-recognized credentials. DOL solicits comments on the effectiveness of SREs’ establishment of competency-based standards will provide enough guidance to industry-recognized programs to ensure programs have value.  

  1. An employment relationship during which an apprentice is paid at least minimum wage 

  1. Apprentice access to earning credit for training, where possible. And 

  1. structured mentorship opportunities.  

The proposed regs explicitly requires SREs to ensure programs adhere to all safety and equal employment laws, but require no specific action towards these goals, unlike higher standards required of registered programs under 29 CFR 29.  

The regulations also empower industry-recognized programs to access a streamlined process for applying as a registered program, however DOL recognizes the intention of the new program is to expand work-based learning opportunities to new programs and not to create a duplicative system.  

Funding Availability 

As discussed above, applications for the newly announced funding, Apprenticeships: Closing the Skills Gap grant program, are due September 24th 

DOL anticipates funding up to 30 partnerships up to $6 million. Applicants will be required to show participation of an “apprenticeship partnership,” with representatives from businesses, education providers and option partners such as joint labor-management partnerships, community organizations, workforce boards, community organizations and other education providers. This funding opportunity is consistent with the grants awarded this week under the Sector Strategies to Expand Apprenticeship grants, and includes an added recognition of the role a robust partnership can play in ensuring effective program expansion and development, consistent with NSC recommendations. Applicants are also required to include a description of support services – such as childcare and transportation – for which funds will be used and “convincingly demonstrate how these services will support apprentices in successfully remaining in and completing” programs, also consistent with NSC recommendations.  

Congressional Progress 

Just last week, the House passed a Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 funding bill that would limit the $200 million for apprenticeship to registered programs, voting down an amendment offered by Rep. French Hill (R-AK) to allow DOL to spend this funding to expand IRAPs.  

The Senate has not yet released a draft of their bill, but funding levels are unlikely to match those in the House version. Democrats will likely push for language that restricts funding to registered programs, consistent with that in previous appropriations bills.  

After initial momentum around a bipartisan apprenticeship bill last Congress, members have both been focused on other education and workforce priorities – like reauthorizing the Higher Education Act – and have been unable to reach further bipartisan consensus around a comprehensive package. Several smaller bills, including NSC priorities of supporting local, industry-driven sector partnerships and investing in work-based learning and support services as a component of an infrastructure package, have been introduced this Congress, though, and are markers for next steps in Congressional activity.  

NSC will submit comments on the regulations and will share a template of these comments for partners to personalize to your work in the coming weeks.  

Posted In: Federal Funding, Career and Technical Education

What immigrant advocates need to know about the new Perkins Act

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock
What immigrant advocates need to know about the new Perkins Act

This is a joint blog post by members of the Immigration and Federal Skills Policy workgroup, a set of national organizations that meet monthly in Washington, DC, to address workforce development and adult education policy issues pertaining to immigrants. National Skills Coalition, National Immigration Forum, Migration Policy Institute and the National Immigration Law Center are co-conveners of the workgroup.

Skills advocates have an upcoming opportunity to ensure that their states’ postsecondary Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are responsive to immigrant constituents. 

Last year, Congress reauthorized landmark legislation governing CTE programs. The 2018 law is called the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, and is colloquially known as Perkins V.

As states begin to gear up for the planning process required by the new law, skills advocates have a chance to speak up for effective policies and strategies that can serve immigrant adults and other CTE learners. These strategies can be incorporated into the Perkins state plans that are required to be submitted to the federal government in spring 2020.

(Want to know how your state can combine its Perkins and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act planning processes? Check out this recent guide from National Skills Coalition and Advance CTE.)

Key points to keep in mind for advocacy

  • Perkins is not just about high school students. Fully 40 percent of Perkins funding nationwide supports postsecondary programs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average age of CTE students in postsecondary programs is 26.3 years old.* State Perkins plans should specifically describe on-ramps for adult learners into CTE programs, to make clear that not all postsecondary participants would be coming directly from high school. Having well-designed on-ramps is especially important for immigrants, who are often working adults eager to access upskilling opportunities. States can capitalize on the fact that the new Perkins law adopts the definition of career pathways already used by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to help construct CTE pathways that provide multiple entry and exit points for individuals.

  • People of color are especially likely to be served by Perkins-funded programs. Approximately 13.2 percent of postsecondary CTE students are African American and 21.2 percent are Hispanic. These numbers are higher than their representation in the overall US adult population (12.3 percent African American and 18.1 percent Hispanic). While the reasons behind this over-representation are complex, the bottom line is that Perkins-funded programs should be thinking specifically about how to serve students of color, including those who are immigrants. (The nonprofit National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity has a wealth of resources to assist in this process.)

  • Perkins funding goes to institutions rather than individuals. Unlike WIOA, Perkins funding is not linked to individual jobseekers in the form of a training voucher or a seat in an English language class. Rather, Perkins serves individuals, including immigrants, through its support of the institutions they attend. While Perkins-funded programs are required to collect some data on the students they serve, the “special populations” category does not include nativity. Therefore, there is no direct measure of how many immigrants are served by Perkins-funded programs. However, English learners (ELs) are included in special populations reporting, and about 87 percent of all ELs nationwide are immigrants.

  • Creative use of Perkins funding can help improve opportunities for immigrants and US-born students alike.  Some localities have used even modest amounts of Perkins funding to improve program offerings and services to immigrants and English learners. Often, these efforts can support US-born students at the same time. For example:

    • The Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas, blends Perkins and WIOA resources to support innovative Integrated Education and Training programs in seven occupations. Given the local community’s demographics, the program serves primarily Latino participants, including immigrants and English learners.
    • Westchester Community College in New York has used Perkins funding to develop curriculum for a noncredit healthcare program, which is part of the college’s career pathway to several credit-bearing healthcare programs. Given the college’s location in the suburban New York City area, these programs serve a diverse range of students, including immigrants as well as those born in the United States.
    • Miami Dade College in Florida has used Perkins funding to support a navigator position – a type of advisor who can help immigrant adults who come to the US with a credential from their home country, and want to brush up on their skills in a community college program. Participants come from a wide range of backgrounds, including Cuban and Haitian immigrants among many others.

  • Perkins funding can also help skilled immigrants strengthen the CTE teacher workforce. The CTE field is experiencing dramatic shortages of teachers in almost all subjects, even as the demand for programs is expanding and student populations become more diverse. The Perkins Act requires states to indicate in their plans how local districts and other partners will recruit and prepare teachers and other CTE staff, including equipping them to work with special populations. Immigrants who have degrees and experience from abroad are an untapped resource that is uniquely well-equipped to help states meet the demand for CTE teachers with relevant industry experience and the capacity to work with a diverse range of learners. In addition, Perkins does provide a potential way to support such non-traditional teacher pipelines: funding for creative local teacher training initiatives through its Innovation and Modernization grant program.

Need a Perkins Act 101?

If you are new to the CTE world, it may be helpful to get a more general overview of how this legislation works. Perkins funds CTE services, previously known as vocational education. CTE programs exist at the secondary (high school) and postsecondary (typically community college) level.

A total of $1.2 billion in Perkins funding is distributed by the US Department of Education each year. Unlike WIOA and other workforce funding, this money does not fund specific“slots” for individual students. Rather, it goes to school districts, higher education institutions, and other entities to support costs such as laboratories and classroom equipment, training materials, and curriculum development.

Some Perkins-funded classes are part of “programs of study” that include up to two years of study at the high school level followed by up to two years of postsecondary study.

Get data about your state’s Perkins-funded programs from the Perkins Data Explorer. Find background information on CTE from National Skills Coalition, Advance CTE, and ACTE.


*Data analysis courtesy of CLASP.

Posted In: Immigration, Career and Technical Education
Dream and Promise Act sends clear message: middle skills are a pathway to citizenship

New legislation recognizes importance of middle-skill pathways and immigrant workforce to our growing economy

Legislation recently introduced in Congress marks a significant step toward recognizing the role that immigrant workers play in the US economy, and the vital importance of middle-skill jobs. The Dream and Promise Act of 2019 would provide a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, and ensure a stable future for adult immigrants who have been living and working under Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The bill would also allow more immigrants to access federal student financial aid.

The new bill reflects National Skills Coalition’s longstanding advocacy for a middle-skills pathway for immigrant Dreamers and sends an important message: the American economy depends on working people and immigrants with middle-skill credentials, not just those with college degrees. This provision has broad-based support; in February, nearly 500 NSC members representing education, workforce, business, and other stakeholders came to Washington to advocate for the proposal in Congress as part of our Skills for Good Jobs 2019 agenda.

The broader American public also embraces the idea of having a variety of pathways to good jobs: A recent NSC poll shows overwhelming support for investments in skills, with more than 80 percent of voters endorsing policies that allow workers to pursue technical training, apprenticeships, shorter-term credentials, and other skill-building opportunities.

Because immigrants comprise approximately 1 in 6 American workers, or roughly 28 million adults in the US labor force, it is important for federal skills policies to address their specific assets and barriers. The Dream and Promise Act would address barriers faced by a key subset of immigrant workers, totaling an estimated 2.7 million people.

More about the legislation

The Dream and Promise Act of 2019 was announced at a March 12 press conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) along with lead sponsors Representatives Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA). More than 200 Democrats are co-sponsoring the bill.

The legislation, formally known as H.R. 6, would provide a way for two groups of immigrants to obtain permanent legal status and eventual US citizenship: Those who currently have Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, known as Dreamers. Neither group is generally eligible for permanent status under current immigration laws, unless they meet existing criteria for adjustment of status. There are currently 2.3 million Dreamers in the U.S. (which includes Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients) and 300,000 people with TPS status.

How do middle skill credentials fit into the bill?

The requirements for Dreamers to attain permanent legal status under this bill are different from the requirements for TPS holders, primarily because the TPS holders are more likely to be adults who have been in the labor force for more than a decade.

Under the proposed legislation, Dreamers would need to meet a host of requirements at each stage of this process:

  • Step 1: Apply for an initial conditional permanent resident status. Dreamers would need to show that they have earned a high school diploma or equivalent; or attained a recognized postsecondary credential as defined in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA); or be currently enrolled in an education program that will allow them to earn a high school diploma or equivalent, certificate or credential from an area career and technical education (CTE) secondary school, or a recognized postsecondary credential.
  • Step 2: Apply for removal of the “conditional” part of their status to move into full legal permanent resident (LPR) status. Dreamers would need to demonstrate that they had achieved one of three milestones related to educational attainment, work experience, or military service. For the educational attainment track, Dreamers would need to show that they had earned a degree from a postsecondary institution (including vocational and proprietary schools), or completed 2 years towards a bachelor’s degree, or earned a certificate or credential from an area postsecondary CTE school.
  • Step 3: Follow already-established legal pathways to adjust from LPR status to full US citizenship.

As noted above, the middle skills pathway included in Step 2 reflects a longstanding NSC policy recommendation. Earlier versions of the DREAM Act, which has been introduced in Congress repeatedly over the past two decades, also included the pathway.

How would the bill support upskilling?

The legislation would allow Dreamers with conditional permanent resident status to become eligible for federal student financial aid. Currently, a person must have full LPR status in order to access such aid. In addition, the bill would repeal a 1996 provision that punishes states for allowing undocumented individuals to pay in-state tuition rates. More than 20 states have implemented such “tuition equity” policies.

Finally, the legislation would authorize US Citizenship and Immigration Services to implement a competitive grant program for nonprofits that can aid individuals in meeting the requirements of the bill. Organizations would be permitted to use funding for English language classes, preparation for high school equivalency exams, and other purposes. The legislation does not specify a dollar amount for these grants, but would authorize funding for a 10-year period following passage of the legislation.

Next steps in Congress: What advocates can do

The newly introduced legislation is expected to proceed through regular order in Congress. That means that the committee overseeing the bill – the House Judiciary Committee – will schedule a markup later this spring.

It is anticipated that the full House of Representatives will vote on the bill later this year, though its prospects in the Senate are very uncertain. Skills advocates can use this time to educate their Members of Congress about the demand for middle skill workers in each state and the role that Dreamers and TPS holders can play in meeting that demand.

Posted In: Immigration, Career and Technical Education
As States Gear Up for Perkins Planning, Advocates Can Help Shed Light on Role of Adults in Postsecondary CTE

This blog post is published jointly with the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), and also appears on the CLASP blog. 

Skills advocates can inform and improve the upcoming planning process for Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs by analyzing information about the demographics and needs of adult postsecondary students. Incorporating this information can also help to ensure that planning is responsive to the needs of businesses, as many adult postsecondary students are already engaged in the labor market. 

Too often, conversations about postsecondary CTE assume that most participants are progressing directly from high school CTE classes into a postsecondary program. The data indicate otherwise. The average person in a postsecondary CTE classroom is an adult in their late 20s. He or she is more likely to be economically disadvantaged and more likely to be Black or Hispanic compared to the U.S. population overall. This population is likely to have work and family responsibilities that younger students may not.

Fully understanding who is in our CTE classrooms is especially relevant as states prepare to implement the newly reauthorized Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the Twenty-First Century Act, commonly known as Perkins V.  

State leaders should consider the economic, age, and racial makeup of their postsecondary CTE populations to ensure their programs are responding to the specific assets and needs that these learners bring to the table.

 What do the data tell us?

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), roughly 3.7 million postsecondary students participated in CTE courses in 2016-17.* They were primarily enrolled in community colleges and technical schools, which serve a disproportionate share of low-income students and students of color.

Among these students, 1.6 million, or 44 percent, were considered economically disadvantaged. This is a far higher share than the overall percentage of working-age Americans who live in poverty. Students of color were also disproportionately represented in CTE courses, with 21.2 percent identified as Hispanic and 13.2 percent identified as African American.  

ED’s Perkins Data Explorer unfortunately does not include age data. However, the National Center for Education Statistics’ 2015-2016 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study shows that postsecondary students whose field of study is CTE on average are 26.3 years old.**

It is important to note the average age difference among races/ethnicities:  African American students average 28.7 years of age, while Hispanics average 25.1 years.   More information is needed to understand the importance of these differences for policy and practice.

Specific details of this demographic data vary by state. But as state leaders and skills advocates begin the Perkins V state planning process, the above overview provides a jumping-off point for discussions about their postsecondary CTE populations.

 What can state leaders and advocates do?

  • Advocate for sufficient CTE resources that are allocated as appropriate given state needs.  At the national level, approximately 40 percent of Perkins funds are allocated to postsecondary CTE, but this level varies substantially across states. Advocates should encourage state policymakers to carefully consider ED’s question in the state plan template --“What is the right ‘split of funds’ between secondary and postsecondary programs given today’s environment?” -- and ensure that the state has designated appropriate resources to support postsecondary CTE learners. Stakeholders can also advocate for additional investments in CTE by state and federal policymakers.
  • Ensure that state Perkins V plans outline on-ramps for working adults to postsecondary CTE programs. Postsecondary programs can ensure access for working adults in a variety of ways. In some cases, even secondary CTE programs can partners with adult education providers, as in this example from El Paso, Texas.
  • Bring allies to the table to spark new ideas. Perkins V now requires states to include their adult education state director as part of the planning process. States can draw on the expertise of these adult education experts to ensure that their postsecondary CTE planning reflects the abilities, needs, and interests of adult learners.
  • Capitalize on resources available from national partners. The nonprofit National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity has an array of resources that help postsecondary CTE programs respond to the needs of students of color. Similarly, Advance CTE has published a number of materials on equity issues, including four briefs on how advocates can address the harmful history of tracking low-income students and students of color into low-quality CTE programs, and ensure that high-quality CTE programs of today are helping to achieve greater racial equity.
  • Draw on state and local data to inform policy and planning conversations. Advocates can use the Perkins Data Explorer tool to better understand their state’s CTE student demographics and identify areas for further exploration or study. Other local data sources can help to flesh out this picture and illuminate how the system may be excelling or struggling to reach a particular population.

Ultimately, state Perkins V planning should consider the characteristics of older postsecondary CTE students who may have more significant work and family responsibilities than their younger peers. Policies that mistakenly assume most students come straight from high school without these responsibilities will not incent practice that best serve all students.


*Unless otherwise noted, statistics in this post reflect CLASP’s analysis of information from the Perkins Data Explorer.

** CLASP analysis of U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:16).

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Career and Technical Education
Better Together: How adult ed/CTE collaborations benefit workers and businesses

Advocates can create new upskilling opportunities, meet local business needs, and streamline training costs by launching partnerships between adult education organizations and Career and Technical Education (CTE) providers. That’s the message of National Skills Coalition’s new policy brief, Better Together.

The brief highlights an example from the border city of El Paso, Texas. Local leaders at the Socorro Independent School District (ISD) have capitalized on opportunities under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to improve alignment between the adult education and CTE systems. Their work has been supported by officials from the Texas Workforce Commission’s Adult Education and Literacy program (AEL). 

On the ground in Texas: What one adult ed/CTE partnership looks like

The story begins in 2015, when Socorro ISD adult education leadership reached out to their peers in the district’s CTE program with an idea. Could the district’s adult education program use its own funds to pay high school CTE teachers to instruct adult learners in the evenings?

The idea was a hit. Soon, the providers had developed a plan for offering Integrated Education and Training (IET) programs in four high-demand careers. The CTE partners would provide technical instruction, classroom space, and oversee the use of laboratories and equipment. The adult education partners would fund instructional costs, pay for materials and textbooks, and ensure that the foundational-skills component of coursework was well integrated with the occupational training. From the state level, broad, flexible policy guidance from AEL gave the Socorro partners freedom and confidence in pursuing their collaboration.

Today, the program regularly exceeds its state targets for IET enrollment. In the most recent year, Socorro served 184 adult learners – more than double their target of 76 individuals. Participants can pursue training in security services; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC); computer repair and maintenance; or a pre-apprenticeship electrician program.

Creative partnerships can seed IET innovation

IET is a proven model allows adults with reading, math, or English language skill gaps to build their foundational skills while simultaneously training for a specific occupation or industry. The model was first developed in Washington State, where it is known as I-BEST, and was formalized as a federal requirement in the 2014 WIOA legislation.

As the Socorro example shows, local communities can think creatively about how to implement IET programs. Looking beyond the WIOA-funded adult education provider world to collaborate with CTE partners can enable programs to offer training in occupations that require laboratory equipment or other resources that would be too expensive to purchase on their own. Similarly, partnering with CTE can make it easier to identify and contract with instructors who have industry experience and strong employer relationships.

In Texas, state leaders and other advocates have supported the development and implementation of IET models through the Accelerate Texas initiative, which pre-dated the federal WIOA legislation. Texas officials have also provided local adult education programs such as Socorro with opportunities to receive peer technical assistance and mentoring on topics such as IET and career pathways.

State and federal policies can facilitate strong partnerships

Skills advocates who are interested in replicating the Socorro example in their own states and localities can advocate for policies that will support such partnerships. For example:

  • Provide state policy guidance and technical assistance to spark ideas while allowing flexibility for local innovation. Guidance can detail a list of ways (beyond WIOA) that adult education partners can pay for IET; provide a roadmap for how adult ed providers can establish a Memorandum of Understanding with their local high school or postsecondary CTE program partners; explain how adult ed/CTE collaboration can ensure that IET programs are truly responsive to local business needs, and more.
  • Capitalize on federal policy mandates under WIOA and the Perkins Act to bring partners together to develop a shared strategic vision. States will be required to submit their WIOA and Perkins plans on a similar timeline in Spring 2020, making it easy for state officials to align planning processes and conversations.
  • Explore opportunities for how TANF and SNAP E&T can support upskilling. These key safety net programs are important tools for serving adults with foundational skills gaps. States can consider using some of these funds – as Texas does with TANF -- to support IET programs or similar efforts that will help adults transition off of public benefits.


Check out the full Better Together brief to learn more. Don’t forget about NSC’s prior publications, the IET 50-state Scan and State Policy Toolkit, for examples of state policies that go above and beyond WIOA requirements, and model language for drafting a policy in your state.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Career and Technical Education, Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act Implementation, Texas
House Democrats introduce HEA legislation that would extend Pell grants to short-term programs and increase data transparency

On July 24, 2018, House Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member, Bobby Scott (D-VA), along with several House Democrats, announced the roll-out of the Aim Higher Act (H.R. 6543)—a comprehensive bill that would reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) for the first time since 2008 if signed into the law. According to the bill’s sponsors, H.R. 6543 consists of proposals contained in Aim Higher, the House Democratic legislative campaign launched in May 2017, as well as amendments offered by Committee Democrats during the December 2017 markup of the PROSPER Act (H.R. 4508)—a controversial HEA re-write introduced by House Republicans late last year.

Many of the provisions in the Aim Higher Act embody long-standing priorities of House Democrats—including access to free community college, increased Pell grant funding, strict oversight of proprietary institutions, and the expansion of support services for underserved students, including DACA recipients and foster and homeless youth. The bill has a number of provisions that contradict those contained in the PROSPER Act—demonstrating that House Republicans and Democrats have been unable to build consensus around modernizing higher education policy.

Bipartisan progress on HEA has also stalled in the Senate. Despite a series of promising hearings on higher education reform this year, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander announced that his Committee will not produce legislation to reauthorize HEA this Congress. Nonetheless, the Aim Higher Act provides insight into the postsecondary priorities of House Democrats—which helps set the stage for HEA reauthorization debate in the 116th Congress.

Key elements of the Aim Higher Act include:

Extending federal financial aid to short-term programs – The Aim Higher Act contains language from the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act—a comprehensive bill introduced by House and Senate Democrats this Congress; which aims to make a number of changes to the funding and accessibility of Pell grants.

This language would extend Pell grants to academic or job training courses that are at least 150 clock hours of instruction time over a period of at least 8 weeks; so long as the program is part of a career pathway, and results in an industry-recognized credential. Under current law, students are only eligible to receive Pell grants if they are enrolled in a program of study that requires 600 clock hours over a minimum of 15 weeks. This long-standing policy makes federal financial aid inaccessible to students who may be looking to upskill through high-quality, short-term programs—an issue that has been consistently raised by National Skills Coalition (NSC).

The PROSPER Act made similar changes to Pell grant eligibility—however, students would only have access to Pell grants if they were enrolled in a program that was at least 300 clock hours of instruction over a minimum of 10 weeks. Additionally, the PROSPER Act lacks important quality assurance provisions—missing opportunities to engage business and industry leaders in the oversight of short-term programs and set clear guidelines for institutions looking to offer these courses.

NSC has long advocated for students attending short-term programs of high quality to have access to Pell grant programs; a concept that Republicans and Democrats have now both supported in various pieces of legislation, including the bipartisan JOBS Act—introduced by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) last year—the PROSPER ACT, and most recently the Aim Higher Act.

Improving postsecondary data transparency – Due to existing legal restrictions on the collection and dissemination of postsecondary data, students, parents and policymakers do not have a full picture of the quality of higher education programs. Currently, postsecondary institutions are required to report information to the Department of Education through multiple surveys rather than sharing consistent student level data; a practice that is both burdensome and ineffective. Additionally, the federal government only requires colleges to report data on students receiving Title IV financial aid—leaving the public without a clear picture of program outcomes.

The Aim Higher Act addresses this issue by overturning the 2008 student unit record ban and requiring the development of a secure system, housed by the Department of Education, that would evaluate program-level data. This language is similar to that of the College Transparency Act—a bipartisan, bicameral bill led by Senators Hatch (R-UT) and Warren (D-MA) and Representatives Polis (D-CO) and Mitchell (R-MI)—that aims to equip students with the data they need to make informed decisions about their futures. NSC supports the College Transparency Act and is encouraged by the inclusion of similar language in the Aim Higher Act.

The PROSPER Act also took steps to increase the transparency of postsecondary education data by mandating the creation of a college dashboard website. While this public-facing website would include valuable, institution-level information such as student to faculty ratio and the median earnings of students who obtained a certificate or degree both in the 5th and 10th years following their graduation, the student unit record ban would be kept in place—meaning no new data would be captured. While the dashboard acknowledges the importance of data transparency, it leaves students and their families without a complete picture of what to expect from various institutions.

Increasing support services for high-need students – National Skills Coalition has been a vocal advocate for support services for adult and other non-traditional students enrolled in higher education. The majority of postsecondary students today have at least one characteristic of a non-traditional student—which can include working full or part-time while attending school, parenting a dependent child, or entering college for the first time after spending years in the workforce.  These students often have different needs than first-time, full-time college students between the ages of 18-23 who are living on campus while attending classes.

To help aid non-traditional students, the Aim Higher Act establishes a $150 million grant program for states to establish or expand initiatives that help vulnerable populations, such as foster and homeless youth, successfully transition to college. Grantees would also be required to award funding to institutions looking to provide wrap around services to these students, such as housing, childcare, and transportation, once they enroll in college.

NSC supported a similar proposal introduced in the Senate this Congress, known as the Gateway to Careers Act. Led by Senator Hassan (D-NH) this measure would support career pathways for nontraditional students through dedicated federal grant funding. The grants, which would be administered by the U.S Department of Education in consultation with the U.S Department of Labor, would be awarded on a competitive basis to institutions that are working in partnership to serve students experiencing barriers to postsecondary access and completion. Career pathways, which combine access to career counseling, direct support services—such as childcare and transportation—and basic skills instruction, lead students to the skills and credentials they need to persist and succeed in today’s economy.

In addition to this new grant program, the Aim Higher Act increases funding for existing student support programs, including:

  • The Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program (CCAMPIS)
    • The Aim Higher Act would increase funding for CCAMPIS, a program that provides campus-based child care services to low-income parents, from $16 million per year to $67 million (a $51 million increase).
    • The PROSPER Act preserved CCAMPIS but did not provide additional funding for the program. 
    • The Federal TRIO Programs (TRIO)
      • TRIO programs are designed to provide services to individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO includes eight different programs targeted to assist low-income individuals, first generation college students, and individuals with disabilities—so that they can progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to postbaccalaureate programs. The Aim Higher Act increases funding for TRIO programs by $110 million—which would bring total funding to $1.01 billion.
      • The PROSPER Act cut funding levels for TRIO by $50 million.
      • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG)
        • SEOG is a federal assistance grant reserved for college students with the greatest need—roughly 81% of students who receive SEOG come from families earning less than $30,000 per year.
        • The Aim Higher Act phases out the current SEOG allocation formula and replaces it with one that would base the amount of funding on the level of unmet need at an institution as well as the percentage of low-income students they enroll; rather than how long the institution has participated in the program. The Aim Higher Act also creates a pilot program that allows institutions to use up to 5% of their FSEOG funds to provide emergency grants to students.
        • Under the PROSPER Act, SEOG would have been eliminated.
        • Federal Work Study (FWS) program
          • The bill would also replace the current FWS grant allocation formula with the one proposed for SEOG—and would include a “bonus allocation” for institutions that have strong outcomes for serving and graduating Pell recipients. The Aim Higher Act would also double funding for FWS.
          • FWS also received an increase in funding under the PROSPER Act, although the current funding formula would stay in place. PROSPER also aimed to give students participating in FWS more flexibility to work in the private sector during their time in school.
          • Pell Grant Program
            • The Aim Higher Act extends financial aid access to those who have historically been unable to qualify for assistance, including undocumented students who are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) and individuals who were previously or are currently incarcerated.
            • The bill would also increase the maximum Pell award by $500 each year and permanently index the grants for inflation. Additionally, students would be able to access Pell grants for fourteen semesters instead of the current twelve.

Other notable elements of the Aim Higher Act include:

Establishing a federal-state partnership to finance free community college – One of the hallmarks of the Aim Higher Act is the establishment of a federal-state partnership that would cover the cost of community college for students across the United States. States would be able to opt into a partnership with the federal government, through which they would receive federal funding, so long as they committed to providing all students with two years of community college free of cost—and continued to invest in education to reduce the financial burden on students and families.

The concept of free community college dates back to “America’s College Promise”—a plan announced by President Obama in 2015 that would tuition to community college students who maintain a grade-point average of 2.5 or better, and who graduate within two years. Although America’s College Promise was not supported at the federal level while President Obama was in office, a number of states have continued or adopted their own free tuition programs; including Tennessee, Oregon, Rhode Island and California.

Simplification of the federal student loan system – The Aim Higher Act would provide students with two repayment options for their student loans: a fixed repayment plan, or an income-based repayment plan. Borrowers who are more than 120 days delinquent will automatically be enrolled in an income-based repayment plan.

A step toward Competency Based Education (CBE) – The Aim Higher Act green lights a demonstration project that allows participating CBE programs to request flexibility from some regulatory requirements seen as barriers to implementation. In exchange, annual evaluations of CBE programs are required. An institution’s accrediting agency is also required to set standards specific to CBE.

As of today, the Aim Higher Act has not yet been scored by CBO. National Skills Coalition looks forward to continuing to work with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle as move closer to enacting higher education legislation that works for today’s students.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Career and Technical Education, Federal Funding, Higher Education Access
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