Tech training is gateway to middle class

College should not be the only gateway to the middle class, writes Robert Reich, who was Bill Clinton’s secretary of Labor, in Salon.  Obsessed with bachelor’s degrees, “we’ve allowed vocational and technical education to be downgraded and denigrated,” he writes. But our economy needs skilled technicians.

As digital equipment replaces the jobs of routine workers and lower-level professionals, technicians are needed to install, monitor, repair, test, and upgrade all the equipment.

Hospital technicians are needed to monitor ever more complex equipment that now fills medical centers; office technicians, to fix the hardware and software responsible for much of the work that used to be done by secretaries and clerks.

Automobile technicians are in demand to repair the software that now powers our cars; manufacturing technicians, to upgrade the numerically controlled machines and 3-D printers that have replaced assembly lines; laboratory technicians, to install and test complex equipment for measuring results; telecommunications technicians, to install, upgrade, and repair the digital systems linking us to one another.

Community colleges train technicians at “bargain” prices, but they’re “systematically starved of funds,” writes Reich.  State legislators “direct most higher-education funding to four-year colleges and universities because that’s what their middle-class constituents want for their kids.”

Business “executives are usually the products of four-year liberal arts institutions and don’t know the value of community colleges,” he adds.

By contrast, Germany provides its students the alternative of a world-class technical education that’s kept the German economy at the forefront of precision manufacturing and applied technology.

The skills taught are based on industry standards, and courses are designed by businesses that need the graduates. So when young Germans get their degrees, jobs are waiting for them.

Young Germans choose a technical or academic track by age 14, writes Reich. Americans wouldn’t go for that.

But we could “combine the last year of high school with the first year of community college” to train technicians, writes Reich.  Employers “would help design the courses and promise jobs” to graduates. Late bloomers could pursue associate or bachelor’s degrees, if they choose.

North Carolina is adding five-year “early college” high schools, such as Wake Early College of Health and Sciences.  Students can graduate with a two-year degree or health science certificate.

IBM helped design New York City’s P-TECH, which adds two years of college-level job training to four years of high school.  IBM will hire graduates who want to go directly to the workforce.


P-TECH in Brooklyn fields a robotics team.

Mastery + modules = job training revolution

Online competency-based education is the most “disruptive” innovation in higher education, write Michelle R. Weise and Clayton M. Christensen in Hire Education.

Online competency-based providers create cost-effective, adaptable pathways to the workforce by breaking learning into competencies rather than courses, they write.

The fusion of modularization with mastery-based learning is the key to understanding how these providers can build a multitude of stackable credentials or programs for a wide variety of industries, scale them, and simultaneously drive down the cost of educating students for the opportunities at hand. These programs target a growing set of students who are looking for a different value proposition from higher education—one that centers on targeted and specific learning outcomes, tailored support, as well as identifiable skillsets that are portable and meaningful to employers. Moreover, they underscore the valuable role that employers can play in postsecondary education by creating a whole new value network that connects students directly with employers.

Strong partnerships between online competency-based providers and employers will become more important than college rankings and accreditation, Weise and Christensen predict.

Learning and rebuilding in Ferguson


The shooting death of Michael Brown sparked peaceful and violent protests in Ferguson, Mo.  Credit: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.P. Forbes/AP

The fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer — and the unrest that followed — are now the subject of lessons at colleges near the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, reports Katherine Mangan in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Cindy Epperson, professor of sociology at St. Louis Community College at Meramec, teaches Crime and Society and Introduction to Sociology.  She plans to diagram “Michael Brown and the groups that surround him—the grieving family and the grieving community—and how his death connected him to a community of strangers. We’ll talk about how the life and death of this young man will lead to social change.”

We’ll also talk about debunking stereotypes and myths. Most of the looters shown in the media were black, so people who believe this is what black people do are going to say, “See, I told you so.” But what we do in sociology is look at how many people were there and how many were not looting. How many were opportunists whose actions had nothing to do with the death of Michael Brown?

My colleagues and I have spent time with the protesters in Ferguson, trying to get our heads around what’s happening. We want students to start thinking critically about how the events relate to each other and about possible solutions. Why are there only three African-American officers out of 53 when 63 percent of Ferguson is African-American? What kinds of attitudes might be preventing people from becoming police officers, and how can the college be part of the solution?

Centene, a managed-care company, plans to build a claims center in Ferguson that will create 150 to 200 full-time jobs, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  The company hopes to open a temporary facility in Ferguson by the end of the year.

“It is time for action, not talk,” Centene chairman and CEO Michael Neidorff said in a written statement.

St. Louis Community College will provide targeted job training for the new employees.

Employers, colleges try German-style job training

Germany’s job training model — a mix of vocational classwork and on-the-job apprenticeships — is catching on in the U.S., reports Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.

Students at Indiana’s Ivy Tech community colleges will be able to spend three days a week in class and two working — for pay — at companies such as Industrial Electric.

Ivy Tech plans to add programs in advanced automation and robotics, collaborating with employers who run assembly plants.

Students at Ivy Tech Community College. (Photo: Ivy Tech Community College)

Ivy Tech students practice welding skills. Photo: Ivy Tech Community College
In addition to Indiana, German-style job training programs are in the works in more than a dozen states.

The Obama administration is promoting academic credit for apprenticeships.

However, funding apprenticeships is expensive. “In Germany, employers pay 75 percent of the $19,850 annual cost of each trainee, and the government covers the rest,” writes Marcus. Ivy Tech is trying to get employers to cover the cost for trainees they hire.

Only about 10 percent of American 18- to 22-year-olds get on-the-job training, the OECD reports.

High youth unemployment and a shortage of skilled workers is a problem in Europe too, except for Germany, reports The Economist.

Community colleges should be free


Following Tennessee’s lead, several states are considering free tuition for community and technical college students.

Community Colleges Should Be Free, editorializes Scientific American. Community colleges train technicians for jobs in leading-edge industries and serve as gateways to higher education for first-generation, minority and working-class students.

The Tennessee Promise is showing the way. Starting next year, high school graduate will pay no tuition at two-year community colleges and technical schools.

However, many community college entrants have weak basic skills. Only 32 percent of Tennessee students complete a credential. Gov. Bill Haslam’s program includes “mentors” to help students succeed.

 To ensure that the newly enrolled reach graduation day, administrators of community colleges must emphasize accelerated remedial programs to get students through the basics and into career-related classes quickly enough to avoid the frustration and despondency that lead to elevated dropout rates.

The two-year colleges should also give serious consideration to new teaching methods that could maximize the time teachers have to interact with their students. Bill Gates, whose foundation has contributed tens of millions to remedy the failings of two-year schools, recommended in a speech last year that community colleges experiment with “flipped classrooms.” Students watch lectures from MOOCs (massive open online courses) at home. In class, instead of getting lectures, they complete homework-like exercises, with personalized instruction from professors and teaching assistants.

Oregon plans a Promise bill.  Mississippi legislators rejected the idea, but may come back to it next year. Now a Texas politician has proposed making community and technical college free to high school graduates in her state.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, wants the state to invest $2 billion in a Texas Promise Fund modeled after the Tennessee plan. “It is time to get Texans prepared for the jobs of the future,” said Van de Putte. Students would have to exhaust their federal grant aid and pay for their non-academic fees, books and living expenses.

In Michigan, the Kalamazoo Promise — funded by local philanthropists – guarantees college or university tuition to graduates of district-run public schools. Grades and AP enrollments are up and suspensions are way down, reports Politico. But, nine years after the Promise was announced, college dropout rates remain high for Kalamazoo students.

Brian Lindhal, a 2012 graduate of Loy Norrix High School, had a rocky start at Kalamazoo Valley Community College last fall. After earning a B in English and a D in history his first semester, he didn’t sign up for the winter term. “It didn’t click,” says Lindhal, 20, who works full-time at a company that restores garments after fires and floods. He plans to go back next semester. “I know a lot of people in other places would kill to have what I have,” he says sheepishly.

Rochester, New York also has a Promise program, writes Michael Holzman on Dropout Nation. Very few blacks — and even fewer black males — read proficiently in ninth grade and go on to earn a diploma at Rochester’s high schools. Only nine percent of blacks earned a degree in six years at Monroe Community College. The completion rate was five percent for black males.

Trained, jobless and in debt

Joe DeGrella of Louisville trained as a cardiology technician but works at AutoZone. Credit: Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

Millions of laid-off Americans have used federal aid to train for new jobs, reports the New York Times. Yet many end up jobless and in debt.

It’s not clear the $3.1 billion Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which was reauthorized last month, improves trainees’ odds of finding a job or their improving their earnings.  The feds don’t keep track.

When Joe DeGrella’s construction company failed, he met with a federally funded counselor, who “provided him with a list of job titles the Labor Department determined to be in high demand,” reports the Times. He chose a college certified to offer job training and received a federal retraining grant.

Two years studying to be a cardiology technician at Daymar College, a for-profit in Louisville, left him with $20,000 in debt and no job. Now 57, he moved into his sister’s basement and works at an AutoZone.

About 21 million jobless people entered retraining at community colleges, vocational and business schools, and four-year universities in 2012.

“The jobs they are being trained for really aren’t better paying,” said Carolyn Heinrich, director of the Center for Health and Social Policy at the University of Texas.

Laid-off workers spend less to take classes at community colleges. However, completion rates low. Defaults are a growing problem.

At Florida Keys Community College, the default rate is 19.4 percent, reports the Times.

The college charges nearly $11,000 for a two-year degree to get a job as a nursing assistant. Median — not starting pay — for a nursing assistant in Florida is less than $26,000 a year.

The updated WIA requires states to “track former students to determine if training helped them find work with sustainable wages,” reports the Times.

. . . In some states, data and academic studies have suggested that a vast majority of the unemployed may have found work without the help of the Workforce Investment Act.

In South Carolina, for example, 75 percent of dislocated workers found jobs without training, compared with 77 percent who found jobs after entering the program, according to state figures.

The Times confuses the student loan program with workforce development,writes Mary Alice McCarthy on EdCentral. Job trainees get grants though many also borrow to pay for college programs.

WIA spends $3 billion a year, the Higher Education Act provide over $150 billion a year in federal grants, loans, and tax credits. “A large share of that money goes to support students earning associate’s degree and occupational certificates,” writes McCarthy.

The government is “a terrible prophet for labor needs down the road,” writes Ed Morrissey on Hot Air.  The WIA should subsidize “employer-based training for jobs that need filling now or in the near future,” ensuring that people are trained for “real jobs.” Even then, taxpayers will end up paying for training that would have occurred anyhow.

Morrissey recalls the classic Tennessee Ernie Ford song:

You pass 16 classes and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don’t you call me, it wouldn’t be cool.
I owe my soul to the vocational school.

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.