Geothermal tech training heats up

Geothermal energy is a hot field in Nevada, reports Community College Daily. To meet growing demand for skilled workers, Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) has created a program to train geothermal plant operators.

Power plants need workers trained to “control and monitor geothermal power production, injection wells, pumps, vaporizers, condensers, turbines, generators and auxiliary equipment.”

Buildings that use geothermal heat pumps can cut heating and cooling costs by more than 40 percent, according to Anthony Valente, an instructor of industrial and energy technology at Hagerstown Community College (HCC) in Maryland. Companies are looking for workers to install and maintain geothermal heat pumps.

The college enhanced its existing HVAC and electrical training to include geothermal technology, said Valente.

Greenville Technical College (GTC) in South Carolina used grants to create geothermal and solar training centers, but so far there are few jobs for graduates, reports Community College Daily. GTC has incorporated some geothermal and solar training into its architectural and construction engineering technology programs, said Joel Welch, dean of technologies.

Higher ed a la carte


Should students loans be available for job training?
Accreditation is a higher ed cartel, argues Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, on The Federalist. He proposes letting states accredit alternative postsecondary programs, such as job training, apprenticeships, hybrid on-campus/on-the-job models and distance-learning options. People seeking skills — but not necessarily a degree — could assemble the education they need, a la carte, using federal aid to pay their costs.

Under the federal Higher Education Act, students are eligible for Title IV student loans and grants only if they attend formally accredited institutions. That makes some sense, for purposes of quality control. Except that under the law, only degree-issuing academic institutions are allowed to be accredited. And only the U.S. Department of Education gets to say who can be an accreditor.

By blocking new competitors, the system drives up costs, argues Lee. That prices most Americans “out of the post-secondary opportunities that make the most sense for them” and plunges “most of the rest deep into debt to pursue an increasingly nebulous credential.”

The Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act would give states the power to create their own, alternative systems of accrediting Title IV-eligible higher education providers. . . . State-based accreditation would augment, not replace, the current regime. (College presidents can rest assured that if they like their regional accreditor, they can keep it.) But the state-based alternatives would not be limited to accrediting formal, degree-issuing “colleges.” They could additionally accredit specialized programs, apprenticeships, professional certification classes, competency tests, and even individual courses.

States could allow the Sierra Club to accredit an environmental science program, a labor union to accredit its apprenticeship program and Boeing to accredit an aerospace engineering “major,” Lee writes. Professors — or others with expertise — could go freelance, offering their teaching talents online.

In today’s customizable world, students should be able to put their transcripts together a la carte – on-campus and online, in classrooms and offices, with traditional semester courses and alternative scenarios like competency testing – and assistance should follow them at every stop along the way.

Employers already have shifted a lot of job training to community colleges. Now they could keep it in house — if their state agreed — with federal taxpayers footing the bill. Smashing the cartel could make today’s quality control problems even worse, responds Jordan Weissmann on Slate.

The entire point of requiring schools to be accredited before they can become eligible for federal aid is to make sure students don’t take out loans for a worthless education while burning taxpayer money in the bargain. As the rise of unscrupulous for-profit colleges demonstrates, the accreditors have basically abdicated that responsibility. Adding yet more accreditors into the mix, and making more programs eligible to profit off of loan dollars—without making it easier to kick schools out—would only worsen our problems with predatory colleges.

“Agencies might be more willing to punish a bad actor if they could downgrade its accreditation status rather than revoke it entirely—which is the only option available to them right now,” writes Weissmann. That’s one of the ideas proposed by New America policy analyst Ben Miller on EdCentral.

Student aid funds most job training

Most federal support for job training flows through student aid, not workforce development programs, writes Mary Alice McCarthy on EdCentral. Federal student aid provides $150 billion a year to college students in vocational certificate and associate degree programs, while only $20 billion goes to all federal workforce programs.

Nursing students at Cuyahoga Community College train on a mannequin named "Steve."

Nursing students at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland train on a mannequin named “Steve.”

Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity and What Works in Job Training: A Synthesis of the Evidence, both released by the vice president’s office on July 22, lay out the federal workforce development system.

While there are 47 employment and training programs implemented across ten federal agencies, most federal funds  come from four agencies and a few programs, McCarthy writes. Including the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, $18 billion is spent by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (CTE), and military tuition assistance programs financed through the Departments of Defense and Veteran’s Affairs.

These days, community college is “where people go to get skills for work,” she writes. Yet there’s “minimal accountability” for the large and growing share of federal student aid for college students in job-training programs. Many programs don’t fit the administration’s call for “job-driven” training designed with employers to fill high-demand jobs.

Federal student aid “is oddly exempt from national discussions about how to improve America’s job training programs. Until those dollars are truly on the table, we’re not talking about the federal policies that can really make a difference in connecting postsecondary education and work.”

Job training is very hard to do well outside the workplace. . . . Engaging employers, identifying in-demand skills, accelerating learning, designing programs to meet diverse and non-traditional learners, providing effective student supports – it all works and it’s all hard.

Job training can’t do it all, writes McCarthy. “Globalization and technological change are transforming production processes and disrupting labor markets around the world, generating profound changes in how firms hire, compensate, and train employees.”

On the education front, we need policies that will make schools – particularly institutions of higher education – more responsive to the needs of students for concrete skills and transparent credentials. On the employer front, we need policies that promote firms to either invest directly in the skill development of employees (apprenticeship programs, on-the-job training) or that enable their workers to more easily combine work and learning (better leave policies, tuition assistance, etc). Policies also need to recognize that people will be moving in and out of jobs more often, and will need support for up-skilling and periodic bouts of unemployment.

And, “it doesn’t matter how good your job training programs are if there aren’t enough jobs to go around.”

Vets choose for-profits over public options

Thirty-one percent of military veterans enrolled in for-profit colleges in 2012, up from 23 percent three years earlier. Only 50 percent chose public colleges, down from 62 percent.

For-profit colleges use aggressive marketing to lure vets — and their generous GI Bill funding — complains Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin a new report. For-profit colleges received $1.7 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits during the 2012-13 academic year.

At the for-profit colleges receiving the most benefits, up to 66 percent of students left without earning a certificate or degree, according to the report. In addition, 39 to 57 percent of the vocational programs “offered by four of the companies receiving the most Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits would fail to meet the proposed gainful employment rule, suggesting that the students who attend these institutions do not earn enough to pay back the debt they take
on.”

Veterans choose for-profit institutions “because they offer the right mix of study programs, customer service, and locations and times that meet their needs better than do public college,” writes Daniel L. Bennett, an assistant economics professor at Patrick Henry College and a Center for College Affordability and Productivity research fellow.

Harkin also suggests it costs taxpayers nearly twice as much to send a veteran to a for-profit college ($7,972) than to a public one ($3,914). But these figures are highly misleading. They only account for GI tuition payments, ignoring significant taxpayer subsidies and tax exemption. A 2011 AIR report estimated the annual taxpayer cost per full-time equivalent (FTE) student at unselective public colleges to be nearly $8,000, while for-profit students actually provided taxpayers with an average net gain of nearly $800.

Many vets are looking for job training. For-profit colleges’ two-year programs have much higher completion rates than community college programs, writes Matt Reed, the Community College Dean. Career colleges focus on job training with no electives and minimal delays for remediation. That could be one reason why low-cost community colleges are having trouble competing with high-cost for-profit colleges.

A new bill — soon to be a law — will let veterans pay in-state tuition at any state college or university.

Feds will fund adult ed, job training mix


C.J. Forza, an I-BEST student, is learning auto mechanics at Shoreline Community College near Seattle.

The new workforce bill will make it easier for community colleges to teach basic skills and job skills at the same time, writes Mary Alice McCarthy on EdCentral.

Under the original law, adult education funds could only be used to pay for instruction in basic math and literacy skills leading to the attainment of a high school credential. The funds could not pay for job training. Adult education students had to complete their basic education program before they could even qualify for programs teaching postsecondary job skills, even though the desire to gain skills and credentials for work is probably what brought them to the adult education program in the first place. Not surprisingly, many individuals failed to complete their basic skills program, leaving them without a high school credential or job skills.

Washington state’s I-BEST program has proven successful by putting an adult ed teacher and a job trainer in the same classroom. Students can improve their reading and math skills and work toward a GED while earning an industry-recognized vocational credential. Integrating basic skills instruction with job training increases motivation and persistence, writes McCarthy. “The program has become a national model and has been adopted by states and community colleges across the country.”

But funding has been a problem because of the federal ban on using adult education funds to pay faculty teaching the technical skills. Until 2012, dropouts could qualify for federal aid under the “Ability to Benefit” (ATB) provision, if they could demonstrate the ability to do college-level work by completing six credit hours. But Congress removed the Ability to Benefit provision two years ago, making it hard for low-skilled adults to access job training.

The new workforce law “is moving toward providing greater flexibility to providers of integrated programs for low-skilled adults,” writes McCarthy. However, the adult ed budget is just over $600 million, far too little to meet the need. If ATB isn’t restored, most of the nation’s 36 million low-skilled adults will not be able to improve their reading, writing or job skills.

White House promotes college counseling

Helping low-income and first-generation students enroll in college was the focus of a summit that brought experts on college counseling to the White House, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The White House’s January summit focused on encouraging low-income achievers to apply to selective four-year universities. This time around, James Kvaal, the deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council, emphasized that “college” includes two-year colleges and job training programs.

“Four-year college degrees are important but so too are two-year college degrees and occupational training programs. Certificates often have great value in the workforce. So we’re talking about all of that.”

College counseling “is a key leverage point,” Kvaal said, because it touches on the academic, financial and informational barriers that students – especially low-income and first-generation students – face in going to college.

The Obama administration has put information online to help prospective college students research college costs. But web sites can’t do it all, said Mandy Savitz-Romer, the Harvard education professor who organized the conference. Students and their parents need help understanding and using the information, she said.

Closing the skills — and earnings — gap

Jassiel Aguila uses an arch welder to merge two pipes together as he continues his education as a pipefitter at the Air Conditioning, Refrigeration and Pipefitting Education Center on Jan. 5, 2012, in Opa Locka, Fla.

By 2020 there will be a shortage of 875,000 machinists, welders, industrial-machinery mechanics and industrial engineers, according to a Boston Consulting Group report

Manufacturers are working with high schools and community colleges in hopes of closing the industrial skills gap, writes Katherine Peralta on U.S. News.

Unlike other teenagers’ summer jobs, Brett Fledderman’s begins at 6 o’clock in the morning, has him programming metal stamping equipment and pays $9 an hour, well above his home state Indiana’s $7.25 minimum. The 17-year-old is part of a new job training program in Batesville in which local businesses, the community college and the high school collaborate to ready a new field of talent for jobs in manufacturing.

“I learn a lot faster with hands-on work, so stuff like this really makes me learn a lot faster than I would in the classroom,” says Fledderman, who’s working this summer at Batesville Tool & Die, a 400-employee company that makes and supplies metal stamping components for the car, appliance and industrial sectors.

Nationwide, most machinists, welders and industrial maintenance workers are “50-something,” says Gardner Carrick, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Manufacturing Institute , a research arm of the National Association of Manufacturers. Companies need to build a pipeline of skilled workers to prepare for the coming “retirement crunch,” he says.

Most manufacturing areas have enough skilled workers now, but five cities – Miami, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Wichita, Kansas – have “significant or severe” skills gaps already.

In Indiana, machinists, tool and die makers, welders, cutters, solderers and brazers pay a median wage of at least $17, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At Batesville High, 70 to 80 percent of students plan to go to a four-year college or university, says Jim Roberts, the school corporation’s superintendent. School administrators have had to “redirect to a more practical approach” in educating students about realistic job market prospects, he says.

Jody Fledderman, Batesville Tool & Die’s president and CEO and Brett’s uncle, says the program in his community is possible because of the cooperation between the high school, the community college – Ivy Tech – and area manufacturers, including Batesville Casket Co., Heartwood Manufacturing Inc. and Virtus Inc. Students in the co-op program, who enter as juniors, split their weeks between classes at the high school and Ivy Tech and on-the-job at one of the four businesses.

Fledderman hopes students will graduate one semester short of an associate degree. The company hires some four-year graduates, but primarily is looking for workers with a technical associate degree and industrial skills.

Obama signs workforce training bill


President Obama spoke at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College on Friday.

Last week, President Obama signed the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act , which reauthorizes federal job training legislation. He also announced executive actions to implement a review of job training programs released by Vice President Joe Biden. The report calls for working more closely with employers and presents a “job-driven training checklist” to ensure programs lead to jobs.

The president and vice president have been talking up job training in visits to community colleges, reports Community College Daily.

President Obama said the Department of Labor no longer will give waivers for a requirement that federally funded training programs make public how many of their graduates find jobs and how much they are paid, reports Inside Higher Ed.  “That means workers, as they’re shopping around for what’s available, they’ll know in advance if they can expect a good return on their investment,” Obama said.

Community colleges may not have access to employment and earnings data for former students, said James Hermes, associate vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges. “It’s not a question of them not wanting to be accountable,” he said. “It’s a question of them not getting the data in the first place.”

The administration also announced a $25 million competitive grant to create an “Online Skills Academy” that would help students earn credentials from accredited institutions.

Obama backs ‘job-driven training’

President Obama endorsed bipartisan job training legislation in his weekly address. He plans to visit a Los Angeles community college that’s retraining workers for health-care jobs this week. Vice President Biden will release a report on creating a “job-driven training system.”

‘College for all’ includes community college


Stop Feeding High-School Students the Myth That College is Right For Everyone, writes Karen Cates in Businessweek.

While unemployment among recent college grads is 8.5 percent, 46 percent of recent grads consider themselves “mal-employed” in low-level jobs that don’t require a degree, she writes.

Meanwhile, construction and other trades are seeking skilled workers. However, employers won’t hire just anyone.

With recent advances in materials and computer science, the work in construction and many other trades is getting more complex, requiring new cognitive skills in many cases. “We don’t consider our apprentice and training programs as just a good alternative for individuals who cannot or do not want to go to college,” says John Grau, CEO of the National Electrical Contractors Association. “Based on the sophistication of our trade and the high level of training it requires, a good number of our applicants enter our [training] program after earning a college degree.”

Yes, everyone should go to college, responds Libby Nelson on Vox. That includes going to community college to qualify for good blue-collar jobs.

Many people imagine a bright line between college and vocational education — Ph.Ds on one side, plumbers on the other. That line doesn’t exist, and it hasn’t for at least a generation. Particularly at two-year colleges, programs for future English majors and future auto mechanics often exist side-by-side. One path might lead to an associate degree, the other to a certificate, but they’re both at a place called “college.”

As higher education economist Sandy Baum wrote in a report for the Urban Institute: “It is common to hear the suggestion that many students should forgo college and instead seek vocational training. But most of that training takes place in community colleges or for-profit postsecondary institutions.”

About 30 percent of construction workers and 20 percent of industrial workers have earned a vocational license or credential, according to the Census. They earn more than workers without a credential but less than those with a degree. Eighty-two percent of workers with vocational credentials earned them at a college, Nelson writes.

In other words, the vocational path to the middle class usually runs through a community college job training program. And those with weak reading, writing and math skills will have trouble succeeding in job training or persuading an employer they’re good candidates for on-the-job training.