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A galvanizing moment: Census 2020 provides new opportunity to invest in skills

The 2020 Census is around the corner. The first census enumerators will begin gathering data in rural Alaska just four weeks from now in January 2020, while Americans nationwide will receive Census mailings beginning in March. The stakes are high: In FY 2017, the US government relied on Census-derived data to distribute more than $1.5 trillion in funding to states, localities, organizations, and individuals.

One area isn’t getting as much press, but is equally important: The role of the Census in prodding policymakers to take action on skills issues.

In particular, the upcoming Census provides skills advocates with a galvanizing moment to help policymakers grasp the importance of investing in digital literacy and other foundational skills. In the near term, policymakers can take action on skills as part of broader Census engagement efforts; in the longer term, investments in skills should be a key part of any Future of Work policy agenda.

The Census and skills: Connecting the dots for state and local policymakers

While many states and localities are busy setting up Complete Count Committees and otherwise hustling to fund outreach and ensure that hard-to-count communities are included in the Census, relatively less attention has been paid to the skills needed for the Census. These fall into two categories:

  • Skills needed by individuals who are responding to the Census
  • Skills needed by individuals who are seeking jobs with the Census Bureau as enumerators or other frontline positions


Skills advocates can educate local and state policymakers about both kinds of upskilling needs among their constituents. For the general public, traditional literacy and digital literacy skills are important to ensure that families can complete Census forms accurately and be included in the count. For jobseekers, traditional literacy and digital literacy skills are necessary to be eligible for the hundreds of thousands of enumerator and other Census jobs available through the spring and summer of 2020.

Why does the Census require digital literacy skills?

For the first time, the US is pursuing an internet-first Census. That means that typical households will receive three mailings – an invitation to respond, a reminder letter, and a postcard reminder -- inviting them to self-respond via the official Census website. Only if households fail to respond to the first three mailings will they receive a paper form in the fourth mailing from the Census Bureau.

(While online responses were an option back in the 2010 Census, they were not the default. This time around, online response is framed as a default for almost all households. Individuals can also call in by phone to respond, though this option is often avoided by respondents because it can be time-consuming.)

Online responses can be submitted via laptop or desktop computer, tablet, or smart phone. 

What can skills advocates ask policymakers to do?

There are some steps that advocates can take immediately. These are outlined below. In 2020, National Skills Coalition will be releasing a new data analysis of digital literacy skill gaps and an expanded set of policy recommendations as part of our overall Future of Work agenda.

At the state and local level:

  • Introduce state-level legislation or an administrative policy mirroring the federal Digital Equity Act (see below). Investing in digital skill-building helps ensure that all adults have the ability to participate in important civic requirements such as the Census, while also equipping them for a labor market that increasingly demands digital skills even for entry-level positions – such as Census enumerator jobs.
  • Provide resources and technical assistance for adult education programs that serve Census respondents and jobseekers. Existing state investments in adult education vary widely. All states should consider increasing investments in programs serving adult learners, including professional development to help adult educators themselves build the digital fluency needed to equip learners with necessary skills. In terms of technical assistance, California has led the way in issuing an array of programmatic materials including curricula and other Census materials for adult education programs. Advocates can also take advantage of Census resources from the National Coalition for Literacy and the American Library Association to educate policymakers and service providers alike.


At the federal level:

  • Co-sponsor and support the Digital Equity Act, recently introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and colleagues. This legislation, now under consideration in Congress, would create two new federal grant programs to support digital literacy. States would be required to develop digital inclusion plans that outline how partners such as nonprofit organizations, workforce and adult education providers, and libraries would help to ensure that all state residents have equitable access to digital skill-building opportunities. 
    • The legislation would include:
      • A $125 million formula grant program, distributed to all states
      • A $125 million discretionary grant program, distributed only to states that win a competitive proposal process

  • Increase investment in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Currently, Title II funds programs serving approximately 1.5 million adult learners each year -- including classes in adult basic education, adult secondary education (also known as high school equivalency), and English language acquisition. Digital literacy is mentioned as an authorized activity under WIOA, although there is no dedicated funding for such classes. Funding WIOA at its full authorized level is a vital component of helping individuals build digital literacy skills.

 

Posted In: Higher Education Access, Federal Funding, Work-Based Learning

House Democrats introduce HEA reauthorization bill

  ·   By Kermit Kaleba and Katie Spiker
House Democrats introduce HEA reauthorization bill

On October 15th, Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, introduced the College Affordability Act, a comprehensive reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act (HEA). The new 1200 page bill lays out a range of Democratic priorities for HEA, including the establishment of a new federal-state partnership to support free community college tuition, increased Pell grant funding permanently indexed to inflation, and expanding eligibility for federal financial aid to underserved populations, including incarcerated individuals, and DACA and DAPA recipients. The bill also includes new oversight rules for for-profit institutions, takes steps to try and rein in student debt, requires the Secretary of Education to establish a debt-to-earnings threshold for certain training programs similar to the Obama Administration’s “gainful employment rule” and strengthens rules around campus safety.

Importantly, the bill reflects a number of National Skills Coalition’s policy priorities for HEA reauthorization as outlined in our Community College Compact, a set of proposals to increase postsecondary access and success for working students and other non-traditional students, and support better engagement of businesses with our higher education system. Specifically, the bill would:

Expand access to Pell Grants for high-quality short-term programs

Sec. 4013 of the CAA would expand eligibility for Pell Grants to postsecondary workforce programs that provide at least 150 clock hours of instruction over a minimum of eight weeks, as long as those programs meet a variety of quality assurance standards. Current law limits Pell eligibility to programs of at least 600 hours over a minimum of 15 weeks.

National Skills Coalition has long supported making it easier for jobseekers to access federal financial aid for high quality short term programs at community or technical colleges and has endorsed the bipartisan Jumpstart our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act. The CAA language mirrors much of the JOBS Act framework, although it does add a variety of additional program requirements that are intended to address stakeholder concerns regarding program quality and student outcomes. While NSC is concerned that some of the proposed additions may place significant burdens on already under-resourced community and technical colleges as they seek to meet the needs of today’s students, we share Rep. Scott’s commitment to supporting only high quality programs and credentials, and we appreciate the Chairman’s leadership on this critical provision.

Make higher education and workforce outcomes data comprehensive and transparent

As more and more jobs require some form of postsecondary education or training, it is increasingly important for jobseekers, employers, colleges, and policymakers alike to be able to understand which programs are providing the skills and credentials that lead to success. To this end, National Skills Coalition has endorsed the bipartisan College Transparency Act, which would lift the current ban on federal student record systems, and allow program-level reporting on student outcomes both during and after participation in postsecondary education. Sec. 1022 of the CAA largely mirrors the language of the College Transparency Act, and would represent a critical step towards increasing the availability of critical postsecondary data. We applaud Chairman Scott’s decision to include CTA as part of this broader reauthorization proposal.

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

States and postsecondary institutions across the country are working hard to implement career pathway models that provide nontraditional students with the services they need to persist and succeed. However, federal support for student supports has historically been relatively limited. To address this challenge, National Skills Coalition endorsed the bipartisan Gateways to Careers Act, which would provide dedicated funding to career pathways partnerships between community colleges, workforce partners, and adult or secondary education partners to support a range of programs and student services.

The CAA does not directly adopt the grant program outlined under the Gateways to Careers Act, but the bill does make a number of important investments in student supports that are consistent with that legislation, including:

  • The establishment of an emergency grant program at eligible public and private non-profit institutions participating in the federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program, which would allow students to receive assistance in response to financial emergencies
  • Expansion of the Child Care Access Means Parents in Schools (CCAMPIS) program, which supports campus-based child care programs
  • The establishment of a new Community College Student Success program, which would provide $1 billion annually to support efforts to increase student completion, including through financial assistance and the provision of academic and career counseling
  • The establishment of a new remedial education reform grant program that would provide roughly $160 million in grants annually to support evidence-based strategies – including accelerated learning models - that allow students to reduce time to program completion.

National Skills Coalition applauds the Chairman for inclusion of these provisions, which we believe would enhance opportunities for working adults and other non-traditional students.

Provide targeted funding for partnerships between community colleges and businesses

Across the nation, employers in a range of industries rely on partnerships with community and technical colleges to develop their workforce and stay competitive. 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.

National Skills Coalition has endorsed the Community College to Career Fund Act, which would provide dedicated funding to support these critical industry-college partnerships. The CAA does not directly adopt the grant program outlined in CC2CF; however, it does authorize $181 million per year in additional funding for postsecondary programs provided under the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V). These new funds must be used to support partnerships with local workforce and educational entities and may be used to support the development and implementation of industry or sector partnerships as defined under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. While not exactly mirroring the language in CC2CF, we believe the proposed expansion of Perkins postsecondary funding is consistent with our recommendations under the Community College Compact and our 2015 recommendations for Perkins reauthorization

Next Steps

The introduction of CAA comes less than two weeks after Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced his own scaled-back HEA reauthorization bill, the Student Aid Improvement Act of 2019. Sen. Alexander’s proposal has been criticized for focusing on a narrower set of policies than the more comprehensive reauthorization envisioned under CAA, but the bill likely serves as a starting point for negotiations on the Senate side as the two chambers look to potentially reconcile their competing versions and produce a compromise bill. National Skills Coalition looks forward to working with the committees as they continue these discussions to ensure that any final reauthorization bill includes the four priorities outlined in the Community College Compact.

Posted In: Higher Education Access
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
UPDATE: Florida and California become 15th and 16th states to call on Congress to adopt a job-driven Community College Compact as part of HEA reauthorization

UPDATE: As of September 18th, Michael P. Brawer, CEO and Executive Director of the Association of Florida Colleges, has also signed onto the Community College Compact. Read the updated letter here. Elroy Ortiz Oakley has sent in a separate letter on behalf of California Community Colleges, sharing the same higher education policy priorities.

To date, sixteen total states have urged Congress to adopt the four policies contained in the Community College Compact, including: AR, CA, CT, FL, IA, KY, LA, MO, MS, NV, NH, NY, OR, VA, WA, and WV.

September 5th-- Sarah Armstrong Tucker, Chancellor of West Virginia Community and Technical College System, has joined the ranks of thirteen other state-wide systems to support the suite of post-secondary education bills.

August 27th-- Brian Millner, President and CEO of the Missouri Community College Association, has signed onto the Community College Compact, urging federal policymakers to make higher education policy more responsive to the needs of today’s students, in recognition of the support shown by Missouri's thirteen independent community colleges. For more information about the Compact click here.

Posted In: Higher Education Access, Florida, California
Crucial higher education bill introduced in Senate to round out Community College Compact

Last week, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), joined by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Tina Smith (D-MN), introduced the Community College to Career Fund in Higher Education Act (S. 1612) in the Senate. This important bill aims to support crucial partnerships between community colleges and businesses—allowing for increased access to high-quality education and training options for students seeking 21st century skills.

The introduction of the Community College to Career Fund in Higher Education Act means that all four National Skills Coalition’s Community College Compact policies have been introduced as legislation. The Community College Compact is a set of four higher education policy recommendations informed and vetted by workforce development practitioners. These policies were designed to be collectively considered by Congress as they work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA)—a sweeping federal policy governing postsecondary programs and student financial aid that has not been updated since 2008.

The Community College to Career Fund in Higher Education Act would authorize the Secretaries of Education and Labor to make competitive grant funding available to community and technical colleges that commit to partnering with workforce development stakeholders to give students more access to skills. To be approved for funding, community and technical colleges are required to submit an application to the Secretaries detailing the education and workforce training programs or activities that will be offered under the grant, how these programs or activities will meet the needs of employers and students in the area, and the methodology by which the success of these programs will be measured.

Under the legislation, grant recipients are permitted to use funds to offset the cost of a range of activities, including expanding articulation agreements, enhancing student support services, building linkages between secondary education or adult education and literacy programs, and developing or improving education and training programs that lead to recognized postsecondary credentials. Grants made by the Secretaries under this bill can last up to five years.

Federal funding for valuable industry partnerships has been lacking since the expiration of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program in 2014. We applaud Senator Duckworth’s efforts to strengthen these partnerships at the federal level—a policy change that will lead to student and employer success in today’s economy.

Given the skill needs of students and employers in today’s economy, where 80 percent of jobs require some form of education or training beyond the high school level, the modernization of our nation’s higher education policy through the adoption of Senator Duckworth’s bill as well as the balance of the Community College Compact bills is more important than ever before. Notably, the Compact’s policies are overwhelmingly supported by voters and business leaders who want to see higher education change for the better. 

In addition to Senator Duckworth’s bill, the policy proposals that make up the Community College Compact are:

Extend federal financial aid to high-quality, short-term programs by passing the JOBS Act (S.839)

Many students today are enrolling in postsecondary education in pursuit of the skills and credentials they need to successfully compete in today’s economy. However, this does not mean that employers are solely looking to hire candidates with two or four-year degrees. In fact, more than half of all jobs today can be classified as “middle-skill,” meaning they require a high school diploma, but not a college degree.

Despite this reality, students are required to enroll in postsecondary programs that are at least 600 clock hours over 15 weeks of instruction in order to qualify for crucial federal financial aid, including needs-based Pell grants. This policy leaves students enrolling in shorter-term programs behind, despite these programs leading to employer-valued credentials.

To address this inequity, Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) introduced the JOBS Act, which would allow students enrolling in postsecondary programs that are at least 150 clock hours over 8 weeks of instruction to qualify for Pell grants—so long as the programs meet the quality assurance criteria outlined in the legislation.

Increase the transparency of postsecondary education and workforce data by adopting the College Transparency Act (S. 800, HR 1766)

Currently, the Higher Education prohibits the Department of Education from collecting data on all postsecondary students. The Department’s existing College Scorecard only includes students receiving federal aid in the calculation of key metrics, like post-college earnings. This presents an incomplete picture of how well higher education and training programs are serving students.

To address this, Senators Warren (D-MA) and Cassidy (R-LA) and Representatives Mitchell (R-MI) and Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) introduced the College Transparency Act—a bipartisan bill aimed at helping students, policymakers, educators and employers make informed decisions when it comes to postsecondary education. The College Transparency Act proposes to overturn the outdated prohibition on data collection while putting a number of safeguards in place to protect student privacy.

Dedicate federal funding to career pathways by passing the Gateway to Careers Act (S. 1117)

To help meet the needs of these students, community and technical colleges along with their industry partners have been working to establish and strengthen career pathways—21st century learning models that combine support services with academic instruction. 

Despite the value of career pathways, there is a lack of targeted federal funding to help sustain and strengthen them. As a solution, Senators Hassan (D-NH), Young (R-IN), Kaine (D-VA) and Gardner (R-CO) re-introduced the Gateway to Careers Act—a bipartisan bill first introduced in 2018 that makes grant funding available on a competitive basis to institutions that are working in partnership with industry stakeholders, community-based organizations and other entities to better serve students experiencing barriers to postsecondary access and completion.

National Skills Coalition applauds the introduction of these bills and looks forward to working with policymakers to advance them through the legislative process.

Posted In: Higher Education Access
Strengthening career pathways for working students: Gateway to Careers Act will help students overcome barriers to postsecondary education

In today’s economy, 80 percent of jobs require some form of postsecondary education and training, yet students, especially nontraditional students, often face barriers to higher education due to a lack of vital support services—including basic skills instruction, transportation and childcare and comprehensive career counseling.

To help meet the needs of these students, community and technical colleges along with their industry partners have been working to establish and strengthen career pathways—21st century learning models that combine support services with academic instruction. NSC has long supported investing in postsecondary career pathways and have highlighted them as part of our Skills for Good Jobs Agenda. Additionally, 10 state higher education systems have endorsed increasing federal funding for career pathways and recent polling shows that 81 percent of Americans are in favor of government funding for support services that will help students finish skills training programs.

Despite the value of career pathways, there is a lack of targeted federal funding to help sustain and strengthen them. As a solution, Senators Hassan (D-NH), Young (R-IN), Kaine (D-VA) and Gardner (R-CO) re-introduced the Gateway to Careers Act—a bipartisan bill first introduced in 2018 that makes grant funding available on a competitive basis to institutions that are working in partnership with industry stakeholders, community-based organizations and other entities to better serve students experiencing barriers to postsecondary access and completion.

More specifically, the Gateway to Careers Act would authorize a new grant program in the Higher Education Act entitled the “Career Pathways Grant Program,” for distribution to eligible career pathway partnerships. As defined by the legislation, career pathway partnerships can consist of:

  • An educational institution, including a two-year public institution of higher education, an area career and technical education school that provides postsecondary level instruction or a consortium of these entities;
  • One or more workforce development partner, including a local board, an industry association, and/or a community-based organization;
  • A Secondary or Adult Education Partner—such as a local education agency, an eligible provider as defined by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), or a career and technical education agency as defined by The Perkins Act.


Career pathway partnerships would be able to use this grant funding for:

  • Creating or expanding dual-enrollment opportunities for secondary students or disconnected youth;
  • Implementing evidence-based strategies that help adult and other nontraditional students access skills and recognized postsecondary credentials;
  • Providing direct support services such as childcare, transportation, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, assistance in obtaining health insurance, and assistance in obtaining federal nutrition and/or housing benefits;
  • Allocating emergency grants to help students who are facing financial hardships;
  • Offering career pathways navigation and case management services;
  • Other activities identified by eligible institutions as necessary to support the development of implementation of career pathway programs.


Additionally, partnerships receiving grant funding would responsible for reporting their program outcomes to the Secretary of Education on a yearly basis.

NSC applauds Senators Hassan, Young, Kaine, and Gardner for making career pathways a priority and encourage Congress to consider the inclusion of the Gateway to Careers Act in any Higher Education reauthorization bill.

Posted In: Higher Education Access
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
Community college leaders from 10 states endorse fundamentals of NSC’s Community College Compact in letters to Senate HELP Committee

On July 16, 2018, leaders of 10 community college systems across the country—including those in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Virginia—sent letters to Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray, urging them to modernize federal higher education policy to better reflect the needs of today’s community college students. The letters emphasize the importance of adopting a job-driven Community College Compact—a set of policy proposals developed by National Skills Coalition with the input of a range of stakeholders; including academic institutions, employers, community-based organization and workforce development boards.

In today’s economy, 80 percent of all jobs require some form of postsecondary education or training—a reality that has led to an influx of individuals enrolling in the higher education system with a different set of objectives than first-time, full-time students. Community colleges serve approximately 9 million students every year of all ages and backgrounds; most of whom can be classified as non-traditional. These individuals often work full or part time, are parents to dependent children, and/or fall in the age range of 28-40.

Given the significant role they play in preparing students for the workforce, community college leaders took the opportunity to outline their shared priorities and urge federal lawmakers to:

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

As our economy continues to change, more skilled workers are needed today than ever before. 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, many community colleges are aiming 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 college leaders urged lawmakers to consider legislation—such as the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 206) led by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH)—that would expand Pell grant eligibility to students enrolled in employer-approved 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 college leaders noted 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 college administrators called for action on the College Transparency Act (S. 1121, H.R. 2434). Introduced by Senators Hatch (R-UT), Warren (D-MA), Cassidy (R-LA) and Whitehouse (D-RI) and Representatives Mitchell (R-MI) and Polis (D-CO), 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 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 college leaders called for the consideration of the Gateway to Careers Act (S. 2407)—legislation introduced by Senator Hassan (D-NH), along with Senators Kaine (D-VA), Shaheen (D-NH) and Reed (D-RI). This 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 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 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 college leaders called on lawmakers to pass legislation that would increase the resources available for these collaboration models —such as the Community College to Career Fund Act (S. 2390). Introduced by Senators Duckworth (D-IL), Smith (D-MN), Kaine (D-VA) and Feinstein (D-CA), this bill would authorize competitive grant funding, allowing academic institutions and businesses to work together to deliver valuable educational or career training programs to students and workers.

The voices of these and other community college leaders across the country are undeniably important, as Congress looks to reauthorize the Higher Education Act for the first time since 2008. While the House and Senate have not passed Higher Education Act legislation this Congress, action is expected early next year. To view the letter, click here.

Posted In: Higher Education Access, Sector Partnerships, Adult Basic Education, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Virginia
Indiana students visit NSC, ask their reps to #MakePellWork

Recently, a group of students from Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College-LaFayette Campus stopped by NSC's office to prepare for meetings with their members of Congress.

These students are part of Ivy Tech’s Associate Accelerated Program (ASAP), which provides high-school graduates with small group classes and dedicated instructors that help them navigate the coursework, develop productive study habits, and tackle issues at home that may affect their studies. For Ivy Tech, this learning environment has resulted in a higher retention rate. Students participating in the program are required to attend school full time, not work, and continue living with their parents or guardians. Most of them qualify for federal and state grants that cover their tuition, including Pell grants. 

NSC’s Senior Policy Analyst Katie Brown and National Network Manager, Jessica Cardott provided students with federal advocacy training in preparation for their visit to D.C. As part of these remote classes, the students learned how to talk about their own experience in navigating financial aid for a career-driven education and discussed how modernizing the Pell grant system and postsecondary data policy could have make this experience easier – all to prepare the students for conversations with their Members of Congress.

NSC hosted the students during their time in D.C, for a final advocacy lesson and “mock” hill visits where they practiced their messages and talking points prepare for meetings with their representatives. During this time, NSC also provided the students with best practices for keeping the momentum going and elevating their conversations on the Hill once back in Indiana.

Posted In: Higher Education Access, Indiana

Gov. of Iowa calls for expansion of Pell grants to short term certificates

  ·   By Nicky Lauricella Coolberth
Gov. of Iowa calls for expansion of Pell grants to short term certificates

Today, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds called for the expansion of Pell grants to cover more short-term certificates in high-demand fields saying, “Iowans are eager for life-changing opportunities and employers want to hire them for good jobs that require postsecondary education or training, but less than a B.A.”   

NSC CEO Andy Van Kleunen joined Governor Reynolds along with leaders from Iowa community colleges, employers, and students for a press conference this morning. Andy praised Iowa’s Innovative GAP Tuition program, calling it a model for other states and the nation because it picks up where federal financial aid leaves off and enables students to attend short-term community college programs that lead to in-demand credentials. 

Andy also acknowledged Iowa’s Skills2Compete Coalition led by Central Iowa Works, United Way of Central Iowa and Kirkwood Community College for championing workforce and education programs (like GAP) that are responsive to the needs of today’s students and industries.

“Washington really needs to catch up to Iowa," Andy said. "Congress could extend Pell grants to people taking short-term programs by modernizing the Higher Education Act or by simply passing bipartisan Senate legislation – the JOBS Act – that would end Pell’s bias against students taking short term training."

To watch the press conference, click here. And read Andy's remarks here.

Andy also appeared on WHO’s News Radio 1040 in Des Moines this morning and spoke with host Jeff Angelo about how expanding Pell to short term programs would help the trades and growing industries in Iowa and across the country. You can listen to his radio interview here – by tuning in at the 19 minute mark.

The importance of expanding Pell to people seeking short term certificates was covered in outlets across Iowa, including Radio Iowa, North Iowa Today, Sioux City Journal, Southwest Iowa News, and St. Joseph News Press

Click here to see a joint press release from NSC and the Governor’s office.

Posted In: Career and Technical Education, Higher Education Access, Iowa
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