Obama touts job training, but where’s the money?

President Obama’s “rhetorical support for vocational training” hasn’t been matched with money, writes Avi Yashchin, CEO of CleanEdison, a vocational education company. In 2012 the federal government spent more than $166 billion on aid and $14 billion on tax benefits, but only $1 billion on vocational education.

Rejuvenating vocational education and skill-specific certificate programs would do more for students than subsidizing bachelor’s degrees, Yashchin writes. But vocational education still has a stigma.

There is a perceived distinction between preparing students to be career-ready, with employable skills, and preparing them to be global, well-rounded citizens, with critical thinking skills — but the two are not actually mutually exclusive. We must convey to both rising students and displaced workers that, to the contrary, many vocational training programs lead to sophisticated work, rather than dirty, mind-numbing labor, as was the case 30 years ago. Today’s technical jobs require not only hands-on skills, but also the ability to troubleshoot, adapt, innovate, synthesize data, and communicate effectively.

The career-apprenticeship model lets students divide their time between the classroom and the workforce. They learn theoretical and practical skills.

Studies have shown that high school students who graduate from these programs earn, on average, 11 percent more than their counterparts who end up in the same field.

Apprenticeships work with industry-recognized certification to make young people highly employable.

Government must provide funding to allow schools to purchase state-of-the art equipment, writes Yashchin. Businesses must hire and train apprentices. “And finally, parents and society at large must recognize that the jobs that vocational education lead to today are both well-paying and rewarding.”

We shall not all be dentists

Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality shows “Midwestern University” co-eds partying a lot and studying a little, write Isaac N. Cohen and Amy L. Wax in And We Shall Not All Be Dentists.

Affluent, upper-middle-class students enjoy a choice of “academically meager” majors and “an easy-going whirl of socializing and fun.” Once they leave college, their well-connected parents can help them find jobs and pay their bills.

Working-class women often aren’t well-prepared for college. They’re “sucked into a party lifestyle they can ill afford, or find themselves alienated, isolated, or overwhelmed.” Most do not graduate in four years and a significant number don’t graduate at all.

For these women, the cost of useless courses, missed opportunities, bad grades, and a general lack of seriousness was particularly steep. Being in over their heads academically was made even worse by the weight of debt they accumulated. . . . The money they owed, too often after failing to complete a useful or lucrative course of study, made it hard for them to stay afloat financially in the real world and required many to move back home and work at multiple relatively unskilled jobs to make ends meet.

Many of the most successful working-class women profiled in the book transferred to less-competitive regional institutions and found steady — if not elite — employment. ”Until and unless college is free (which is not going to happen soon), students of limited financial means and modest ability should be encouraged to pursue lower-cost and more practical options,” argue Cohen and Wax. “At the very least, community colleges and less-competitive, vocationally-oriented institutions should be recognized as the best path forward for all but the most driven and academically prepared.”

We need to start measuring how much college students are learning, writes Ben Wildavsky on CNN. He envisions a collegiate version of the National Assessment of Education Progress that would analyze whether a national sample of students are learning “vital academic skills.”

Obama: ‘Take a job-driven approach’

Apprenticeships and employer-sponsored job training will prepare young people for middle-class jobs, President Obama said last week at a Pittsburgh community college. 

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited Community College of Allegheny County last week to announce $500 million for community college job-training programs and $100 million for apprenticeship grants. The money is the last installment of funding approved in 2009.

“In today’s economy it has never been more important to make sure that our folks are trained for the jobs that are there and the jobs of the future,” Obama said. “We have to move away from a train and pray approach. We train them and we pray that they get a job.” Instead, “we need to take a job-driven approach,” the president said.

The president and vice president toured CCAC and met with “mechatronics” students preparing for manufacturing jobs. Mechatronics “sounds like something Godzilla would be fighting,” Obama joked.

Community colleges will compete for the job training grants by partnering with industry associations and employers. “This competition will focus, in part, on partnerships that create programs in high-growth fields, such as information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing, as well as programs that provide college credit or industry-wide skills certification,” reports U.S. News.

Job training has been “ignored by policymakers,” except when it’s criticized for being ineffective, writes Fawn Johnson on National Journal.  Now the White House hopes to get employers help design community college training and expand their own on-the-job training programs.

AACC guide outlines how to meet lofty goals

Empowering Community Colleges To Build the Nation’s Future is an implementation guide to achieving the ambitious goals set in 2012 by the American Association of Community Colleges. By 2020, AACC wants “to reduce by half the number of students who come to college unprepared, to double the number who finish remedial courses and make it through introductory college-level courses, and to close achievement gaps across diverse populations of students,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“It is time for community colleges to reimagine and redesign their students’ experiences,” Walter G. Bumphus, the association’s president, said in a written statement. Students need “a clear pathway to college completion and success in the work force.”

Increase completion rates by 50 percent by 2020. Publicly commit to aggressive, explicit goals, the guide advises, with time frames for completion numbers and smaller gaps in the achievement of low-income and minority students relative to the overall enrollment.

Significantly improve college readiness. Establish strong connections with local public-school systems, using clear metrics and assessments to define what it means to be prepared for college. Collect baseline data, and track students’ progress.

Close the American skills gap. Understand labor-market trends and local employers’ needs, and communicate them to students. Establish clear pathways for students to build up industry-recognized credentials in high-demand fields.

Refocus the community-college mission and redefine institutional roles. Become “brokers of educational opportunities,” the guide advises, not just “direct providers of instruction.” By creating a consortium, for instance, colleges could share a curriculum, letting students draw from several campuses and delivery models.

Invest in collaborative support structures. Build alliances with other colleges and community-based or national nonprofit groups to pool resources and streamline operations. Small rural colleges, for instance, could create a purchasing cooperative. A national consortium could provide more-affordable access to tools for tracking students across sectors and states, from kindergarten to their first job.

Pursue public and private investment strategically. Keep seeking creative ways to diversify revenue streams. Meanwhile, join national groups advocating for expanded support for Pell Grants and clearer systems for transfer between two- and four-year colleges.

Introduce policies and practices that promote rigor and accountability. Adopt the Voluntary Framework for Accountability, a national tool developed by and for community colleges to broaden criteria for measuring success.

“We’re not going to achieve our mission unless we all decide we’re ready to lose our jobs over this,” said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, superintendent and president of Long Beach City College, at the AACC convention. 

CCs launch Workforce Credentials Coalition

The Workforce Credentials Coalition, led by the California and North Carolina community college systems, held its first meeting this week at the New America Foundation. More than 20 states and industry and professional certifying bodies will share job-readiness data.

Colleges need to track credential attainment data, says R. Scott Ralls, North Carolina Community College System president. The coalition hopes to “move toward a secure, accessible national credential data warehouse.”

Currently, students don’t know if a community college program will help them pass a certifying exam and community colleges don’t know if they’re preparing students to meet industry requirements.  “We are hoping with this coalition to tell the story on how validated credentials are beneficial to our students entering the workforce,” says Renah Wolzinger, who works for the California community college system.

California also is rolling out LaunchBoard, which tracks student outcomes and job skills development.

A case study about the credentials coalition is in included in a new Workforce Data Quality Campaign report, Credential Data Pioneers.

‘Corporate colleges’ make money

Employers are outsourcing job training to  “corporate colleges” run by community colleges, reports Inside Higher Ed. These employer-funded programs are money makers for colleges such as Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), located in Ohio, North Carolina’s Central Piedmont College and the Lone Star College System in Texas.

In Arizona, the 10-college Maricopa Community College District has opened Maricopa Corporate College. Marriott International is its biggest client. “We’re starting to market ourselves as a business,” said Rufus Glasper, the district’s chancellor.

Corporate colleges cater to the training needs of companies, including recent hires and workers who need to learn new skills. Programs are typically non-credit and customized based on the employer’s needs. They can be online or in person, and taught either on a college campus or taken directly to a company. Some of the most common programs are in management training, English as a second language, information technology, advanced manufacturing and welding.

Until recently, community colleges have worked with regional employers. In 2007, Tri-C spun off Global Corporate College, a   consortium of more than 50 community colleges and universities. Through Global Corporate, colleges can network to meet the training needs of national companies.

That’s how Maricopa landed Mariott, said Eugene Giovannini, president of the Maricopa Corporate College. “The network will deliver that training across the country.”

Maricopa hopes to triple the $1.5 million in corporate training revenue earned in a recent year, reports Inside Higher Ed. “This is very much a business decision,” said Giovannini.

Stop pretending college is for everyone

College isn’t for everyone, writes Mike Petrilli on Slate. So let’s stop pretending it is.

All students — regardless of their academic or “soft skills” — are told that college is the only path to a decent job, he writes. But low-skilled students are set up for “almost certain failure,” Petrilli argues. They need “high-quality career and technical education, ideally the kind that combines rigorous coursework with a real-world apprenticeship, and maybe even a paycheck.”

Poorly prepared students can go to an open-access college, but few succeed, he writes. Less than 10 percent of community college students who start in remedial courses will complete a two-year degree within three years, estimates Complete College America. Most will quit before taking a college-level course.

College access advocates look at those numbers and want to double down on reform, seeking to improve the quality of remedial education, or to skip it entirely, encouraging unprepared students to enroll directly in credit-bearing courses, or to offer heavy doses of student support. All are worth trying for students at the margins. But few people are willing to admit that perhaps college just isn’t a good bet for people with seventh-grade reading and math skills at the end of high school.

Unfortunately, our federal education policy encourages schools and students to ignore the long odds of college success. Federal Pell Grants, for instance, can be used for remedial education; institutions are more than happy to take the money, even if they are terrible at remediating students’ deficits, which is why I’ve proposed making remedial education ineligible for Pell financing. On the other hand, Pell can only be used for vocational education that takes place through an accredited college or university; job-based training, and most apprenticeships, do not qualify. That should change.

By pretending that low-skilled students “have a real shot at earning a college degree,” we mislead them, Petrilli argues. They’re less likely to pursue a path that might lead to success.

Petrilli’s argument represents the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” charges RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. “Vocational ed tracks are a legacy of ability tracking and the comprehensive high school model, both of which emerged from the bigoted assumption that poor and minority kids (especially those from immigrant households) were incapable of mastering academic subjects.” 

“College-preparatory learning is critical for success in both white- and blue-collar professions,” he argues. Young people who are not “college material” won’t be “blue-collar material” either.

High-paying blue-collar jobs require high levels of reading, math and science literacy, Biddle writes. All require postsecondary training, often at a community college.

Welders, for example, need strong trigonometry and geography skills in order to properly fabricate and assemble products. . . . Machine tool-and-die work involves understanding computer programming languages such as C . . . Even elevator installers-repairmen, along with electrical and electronics installers, need strong science skills in order because their work combines electrical, structural and mechanical engineering.

I agree with Petrilli that young people get very bad advice. By ninth grade, they should be told the odds — based on high school grades — of completing a bachelor’s degree, vocational associate degree or a vocational certificate. They should know that a dental hygienist or a welder may earn more than a four-year graduate in sociology, theater arts or just-about anything studies.

They need to know early, so they have time to develop the reading, writing and — especially — math skills they’ll need to pursue a technical or academic education.

Students who master middle-school math can study statistics, data analysis, applied geometry and/or mathematical modeling to prepare for a range of careers, concludes What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready? by the National Center on Education and The Economy. “Fewer than five percent of American workers and an even smaller percentage of community college students will ever need to master the (algebra to calculus) sequence in their college or in the workplace.”

States consider $0 community college tuition

Worried about a shortage of skilled workers, some states are considering free community college tuition, reports NPR.

In Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam wants to use lottery money to create a free community college program for high school graduates. The state wants 55 percent of Tennesseans to have a college degree by 2025, up from 32 percent now.

In Oregon, a state commission will look at whether free tuition is feasible.

However, Oregon and Tennessee legislators aren’t sure that middle-class students should pay nothing. A Mississippi bill passed the state House, but then failed in the Senate.

“I think everybody agrees that with a high school education by itself, there is no path to the middle class,” said State Sen. Mark Hass, who is leading the no-tuition effort in Oregon. “There is only one path, and it leads to poverty. And poverty is very expensive.”

Hass said free community college and increasing the number of students who earn college credit while in high school are keys to addressing a “crisis” in education debt. Taxpayers will ultimately benefit, he said, because it’s cheaper to send someone to community college than to have him or her in the social safety net.

Nationwide, the average annual cost of community college tuition is about $3,300, not counting books and fees. 

California’s community colleges were free until the mid-1980s. (Even now, students don’t pay “tuition.” They pay “fees.”)

“What is exciting to us about the idea is that it signals that the state understands there needs to be significant reinvestment in community colleges in some way, shape or form,” said Mary Spilde, the president of Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., where in-state students pay $93 per credit hour. Back in 1969-70, baby boomers paid $6 per credit hour — about $37 in today’s money, adjusted for inflation.

Tennessee and Oregon may adopt the “last-dollar in” model: The state would fund tuition not covered by other forms of aid, such as Pell Grants. That means state money would pay primarily for middle-class families, said Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas. “And is that your best use of dollars within the public interest?”

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, said students are more likely to be successful if they have “skin in the game” and pay something toward their education.

Network aims to close ‘skills gap’

To close the job skills gap, the National Network of Business and Industry Associations is working to set national standards for industry-approved job credentials, make education and job training more effective and efficient, expand work-based learning, encourage employers to “hire for competency” and create more pathways to good jobs.

Employers want to “improve the quality of credentials used for hiring and promotion,” writes Mary Alice McCarthy on EdCentral.  

The focus reflects growing and widespread frustration with the opacity of existing educational credentials, particularly academic degrees, which tell employers relatively little about what a graduate can actually do. It is also a response to the proliferation of non-degree credentials over the past decade, such as certifications, certificates, and badges, and the difficulty employers (and job seekers) confront in evaluating the value of these new credentials. Many of them are only as good as the paper they are printed on. But others, particularly industry-accredited, standards-based certifications and competency-based certificates with third-party assessments, do a great job reliably validating the skills and competencies employers need.  

. . . If the Network can build trust in, and widespread adoption of, industry-wide credentials among their members, it can serve as an essential foundation from which to drive change in educational programs and improve labor market outcomes.

Credential confusion makes it hard for employers to find talent and difficult for students to make good college and career choices, concludes McCarthy.

Florida’s low-cost degrees pay off

Florida’s low-cost bachelor’s degrees are paying off for students, writes Sophie Quinton in The Atlantic

Graduates from the Florida College System’s workforce-oriented bachelor’s degree programs earn about $8,000 more the year after graduation than university graduates, according to research mandated by the state legislature. Tuition for four-year degrees from FCS institutions typically cost $13,000—less than half the cost of four years at a state university.

Alberto Partida, 43, will spend less than $10,000 to earn a four-year degree in supply-chain management from Broward College, a former community college in South Florida. A high school graduate and former restaurant owner, Partida  hopes to enter a growing field. The college estimates there will be 3,555 new supply-chain management jobs in the county by 2019, driven by the expansion of local ports.

The FCS (formerly the Florida Community College System) offers four-year degrees in high-demand fields, such as nursing and computer engineering technology, that lead directly to jobs. FCS colleges don’t offer liberal arts degrees, and can’t offer programs that compete with nearby universities.

But in programs roughly equivalent to university majors, FCS graduates do just fine. Business administration and elementary education majors at state universities earn about the same their first year out of school as FCS graduates, the report found. Registered nurses who graduate from FCS institutions actually earn about $10,000 more their first year out than their university-educated peers.

Florida Prepaid, a state program that lets parents pay for college in advance, charges $53,729 for a four-year university plan, almost three times as much as a four-year FCS degree plan. ”Each year that goes by we’re starting to see more families purchasing the four-year Florida College plan and the 2+2 plan,” says Kevin Thompson, executive director of Florida Prepaid. The 2+2 plan combines an associate’s degree with two years at a state university.