Con­nect­ing the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Act to jobs

In­no­va­tive so­lu­tions can make sure grad­u­ates are ready to suc­ceed in their fields

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Steve Gun­der­son

In a first-of-its-kind ef­fort, the na­tion’s Ca­reer Ed­u­ca­tion Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties (CECU) re­cently un­veiled a set of land­mark pro­pos­als to mod­ern­ize and di­rectly con­nect the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Act to jobs. We are at a piv­otal time as the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Act is po­si­tioned as the na­tion’s work­force in­vest­ment pro­gram, and it is im­per­a­tive that our poli­cies are best pre­pared to meet the chal­lenges of to­mor­row.

The stakes are high as the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics fore­casts that by 2024, Amer­ica will need 46.5 mil­lion new work­ers to fill new jobs and re­place re­tir­ing baby boomers. And 65 per­cent of all re­place­ment jobs and 85 per­cent of all new jobs will re­quire some level of post­sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion. Job train­ing leads to job growth, and train­ing and ca­reer ed­u­ca­tion is not only crit­i­cal to ful­fill­ing the na­tion’s work­force needs, it is key to fuel­ing eco­nomic growth.

As we be­gin to seek com­mon ground with the Congress and the ad­min­is­tra­tion on the new bud­get and reau­tho­riza­tion of the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Act, we be­lieve the mod­ern­iza­tion of Pell Grants might be a good place to start. The pres­i­dent has pro­posed year-round Pell. The Congress pro­tected Pell in the re­cent fund­ing deal. The next step is to make sure Pell is rec­og­nized as a crit­i­cal tool in sup­port­ing mil­lions of stu­dents into good jobs.

We must bet­ter po­si­tion our higher ed­u­ca­tion laws by pur­su­ing ad­vanced poli­cies, like a new Work­force Pell Grant fea­tured be­low, to help stu­dents learn the skills and train­ing they need. Our schools be­lieve we should build upon the com­mit­ment to mod­ern­ize Pell as a launch point in our work to di­rectly con­nect the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Act to jobs.

As part of this im­por­tant ef­fort, high­lighted be­low are 10 in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions we have of­fered and are cur­rently con­vert­ing into a bi­par­ti­san higher ed­u­ca­tion jobs bill to help stu­dents of all back­grounds and in ev­ery com­mu­nity suc­ceed.

1. A new Work­force Pell Grant: The new pro­posal to help adults in the work­force in­cludes three el­e­ments:

• The Kaine-Port­man JOBS Act to make short­term pro­grams el­i­gi­ble for Pell.

• Ex­pand­ing el­i­gi­bil­ity for Pell for those adults seek­ing to ob­tain ca­reer skills who have pre­vi­ously ex­hausted their Pell el­i­gi­bil­ity 10 years ago.

2. A com­mon set of out­come met­rics for all schools’ ca­reer pro­grams: Trans­parency is crit­i­cal to en­abling stu­dents to make the right choices. We rec­om­mend that all ca­reer pro­grams at all schools pro­vide stu­dents with the fol­low­ing com­mon met­rics:

• Grad­u­a­tion rates.

• Place­ment rates in field of study.

• To­tal cost per grad­u­ate.

• The av­er­age oc­cu­pa­tional salary in one’s labor­mar­ket re­gion.

• The most re­cent av­er­age debt of stu­dents com­plet­ing the pro­gram at that school.

3. Con­vert­ing as­pects of the Gain­ful Em­ploy­ment (GE) rule into an in­for­ma­tional met­ric for all ca­reer pro­grams at all schools: The GE reg­u­la­tion tran­si­tions to in­for­ma­tion data by all schools with ca­reer pro­grams (broadly de­fined) to in­clude:

• The BLS av­er­age wage (by re­gion) for each oc­cu­pa­tion.

• The av­er­age stu­dent debt of the most re­cent grad­u­a­tion class in this field of study.

• Re­quir­ing such in­for­ma­tion to be posted on school web­site and pro­vided to ev­ery cur­rent and prospec­tive stu­dent in that field of study.

4. A re­vised Abil­ity-to-Ben­e­fit mea­sure for those stu­dents com­plet­ing six cred­its and par­tic­i­pat­ing in a school’s Ca­reer Path­way Pro­gram.

5. Con­nect­ing ap­pren­tice­ship to aca­demic de­grees by pro­vid­ing credit to­ward de­grees.

6. En­hanc­ing trans­fer of credit among schools: Re­quir­ing all schools ac­cred­ited by the same ac­cred­i­tor to pro­vide credit trans­fer for same-level cour­ses will sig­nif­i­cantly help stu­dents keep costs down by not hav­ing to re­peat cour­ses and avoid de­lays in aca­demic progress.

7. Con­nect­ing work study to a stu­dent’s ca­reer stud­ies: Work study should be tar­geted to em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties that pro­vide stu­dents with ex­pe­ri­ence in the ca­reers they are study­ing.

8. Uni­ver­sal in­come-based re­pay­ment: Au­to­mat­i­cally en­rolling stu­dents in in­come-based re­pay­ment and de­duct­ing stu­dent loan pay­ment through pay­roll de­duc­tions, thereby sim­pli­fy­ing the en­tire re­pay­ment process.

9. Recog­ni­tion of and ac­cess to cre­den­tials: Changes are needed to the statutes gov­ern­ing fed­eral stu­dent aid to pro­mote the use and recog­ni­tion of cre­den­tials. CECU rec­om­mends ty­ing the dis­burse­ment of aid for cre­den­tials to the ac­tual com­pe­ten­cies com­pleted, rather than at­tempted, and re­quir­ing that pro­grams of­fer­ing com­pe­tency-based ed­u­ca­tion are ac­cred­ited, that the school is in good stand­ing for fed­eral Ti­tle IV funds, and that pro­gram com­ple­tion is equiv­a­lent to the skills and knowl­edge achieved in tra­di­tional aca­demic pro­grams for the same learn­ing.

10. Sup­port­ing stu­dents at­tend­ing at-risk in­sti­tu­tions: In the re­cent past, the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion was good at clos­ing schools and leav­ing stu­dents on the streets. This pro­posal, funded by post­sec­ondary ca­reer schools, would pri­or­i­tize the de­part­ment’s work to keep stu­dents in school, and on their way to de­grees and jobs.

If our na­tion seeks good-pay­ing jobs for all Amer­i­cans, we need to be­gin by mak­ing sure higher ed­u­ca­tion con­nects to jobs. To­day, the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Act is Amer­ica’s work­force in­vest­ment strat­egy. Let’s rec­og­nize re­al­ity — and then get it right. Steve Gun­der­son is a for­mer Repub­li­can mem­ber of the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Wis­con­sin and cur­rently serves as pres­i­dent and CEO of the Ca­reer Ed­u­ca­tion Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties.

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