WASHINGTON – Better integration of education at all levels, eliminating the distinction between higher education and career preparation and more cooperation among local, state and federal policymakers can remove barriers and better prepare a workforce that increasingly includes individuals who don’t fit the traditional profile of college students.
Those were some of the suggestions made by two experts at a policy roundtable discussion Wednesday presented by Higher Learning Advocates, a nonprofit organization devoted to connecting federal policies with the needs of postsecondary students, employers and communities.
At the roundtable, titled “Bridging the Education-Workforce Divide: Upskilling America’s Workforce,” Dr. Aaron Thompson, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, and Dr. Jason Smith, partnership executive director of Bridging Richmond talent hub in Virginia, discussed challenges to bridging higher learning and the workforce and issues of access and success for students.
“The conversation itself is problematic and where to place emphasis in the pipeline,” said Smith. “We have to stop separating education and workforce preparation. We take those two parts and separate them out, and I think that’s really problematic. We need to start thinking about it all as being workforce preparation.”
Given the demographic changes and projections of postsecondary school populations in the United States, neotraditional or new traditional may be better terms for students long described as nontraditional. Through most of America’s recent history, the profile of an average college student was an unmarried middle-class White student attending full-time immediately after high school with parental financial support, living on campus and earning a bachelor’s degree in four to five years.
Today, however, only 13 percent of college students live on campus, 26 percent are parenting, 38 percent are older than 25, 40 percent attend part-time, 42 percent live at or below the federal poverty line, 47 percent are financially independent, 57 percent attend two-year colleges and 58 percent work while in school.
Add to those factors the unprecedented cultural diversity of student populations and diversity of postsecondary education options and the need to remove barriers to quality, affordability and successful outcomes for students becomes clear, said moderator and HLA deputy executive director Emily Bouck West.
A significant change in recent years, Thompson observed, is more students who perceive that they don’t have access to higher education and that they lack opportunities to succeed in that space, in spite of financial aid and other support systems designed to help students achieve both.
“Our job is to put value back in that value proposition,” said Thompson. “How do we change that? How do we talk about quality?”
A central part of the discussion should be greater alignment of educational arenas from preK-12 to two-year and four-year institutions, Thompson said. Providing quality education in a seamless continuum with career preparation as a central driver can help skeptical prospective postsecondary students – especially from underrepresented groups – see that education beyond high school is affordable and valuable, doable in a reasonable time and leads to employment, he said.
Breaking down silos between different types of postsecondary institutions can benefit students, said Smith, whether community colleges, baccalaureate programs, vocational-technical programs or online for-profit learning.
Data-sharing and articulation agreements that promote more thoughtful and efficient transfer of credit between schools can benefit students, Smith added. For example, a student may transfer from a community college to a four-year university without having earned a credential, but may find after one or two courses that those credits can be reverse-transferred to the community college and qualify the student for an associate’s degree.
Post-secondary students drop out or stop out for a range of personal issues, from financial to family concerns. Better credit-transfer rules and other such policy changes – which local, state and federal policies could promote – would increase the number of students completing a credential and help move more workers into the employment pipeline.
“One very different thing for students today is it is no longer the experience that you went to one institution and stayed there until you completed it,” said Smith. “People now are looking for learning they need for employment now. And where can I go later to add on? How can I stack into something that helps me over a long period of time?”
Smith and Thompson agreed that employers and schools must begin to work more closely together, and earlier in the formal education process, to ensure that student learning fits employer needs and expectations.
“There’s a need to get employers more involved on the front end in creating programs that matter and teach what they’re looking for,” said Thompson. “Everybody doesn’t have to go to college, but should have education post-high school that works. We need to be far more intentional in putting people on pathways, with employers engaged throughout the process for a continual-improvement model. We in higher education have to rethink how we’re doing business. And so do employers.”
Policies around financial aid also need to be revisited as both an access issue and a success issue, Thompson and Smith said. Paying for school and having the financial resources to meet human needs are concerns for traditional students as well as students from low-income and underrepresented groups, and guidelines around student loans and the Pell grant should be aligned with those needs, Thompson said.
Policymakers at the state and federal levels can play a role by incentivizing “disconnected” systems in higher ed to work better together for post-secondary students, said Smith.
Curriculum redesign informed by the employment sector as early as elementary school and wise use of outcomes data can close completion gaps and help students become culturally competent workforce participants, Thompson said.
“Schools need to align ourselves with a student success paradigm so we’re on the same page when talking about issues of quality and engagement,” he added.
Treating higher education as one system rather than multiple systems and helping students experience wrap-around services in a more integrated way “would go a long way” toward promoting the success of all students, Smith said.
“There needs to be a shift from an access-for-all mentality to a success-for-all mentality.”
LaMont Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @DrLaMontJones.
In this week’s Federal Flash we’ll tell you three important things in the new federal career and technical education (CTE) law that is on its way to President Trump’s desk.
We’ll also review the Education Department’s proposed new rules for the charter school program and a proposal from House Democrats to renew the Higher Education Act.
It’s not every week that we have good news to share from Capitol Hill, but we certainly do today.
With time running out before members of Congress head home to campaign for the midterm election in August, a rewrite of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act had to happen quickly.
Usually the House passes one version of a bill, the Senate passes another, and they meet to work on a compromise of the two versions in a conference committee. Then each chamber passes the compromise bill. That process typically takes a while.
This time, the Senate education committee passed its bill in late June and the full Senate raced to pass a slightly modified version of that bill on Monday. On Wednesday, the House passed the Senate’s bill, allowing them to avoid a conference committee altogether and send the bill to President Trump for his signature.
This is an example where good politics actually pushed good policy.
The Perkins rewrite had been stalled for a while, but the urge to use the rewrite on the campaign trail helped to push Congress to finish the job. And this urge to get something done didn’t just come from Congress. The White House stepped in to move things along, including the personal involvement of Ivanka Trump.
After serving in the Navy, a San Diego veteran borrowed $50,000 from the federal government to attend a for-profit college that promised to deliver him a good, well-paying job, U.S. Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) told Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last week.
But all he has now is $50,000 in student debt. “Should there be recourse for students like him who were enrolled under false pretenses?” Davis asked.
Advocates for students, including NEA leaders, say yes. But that Navy vet isn’t likely to find much support in the DeVos-led Department of Education, which has given the for-profit college industry “everything they’ve lobbied for and more,” Pauline Abernathy, executive vice president of The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), an advocate for stronger regulation, told Politico last month.
Reduced loan forgiveness for students who were defrauded by their for-profit colleges, like Yvette Colon, who told Time that she borrowed $35,000 to get a certificate in cardiovascular sonography from Stanford-Brown Institute, only to find out that the for-profit college lacked the accreditation for her to take the licensing exam or transfer her credits to a community college. Stanford-Brown has since been shut down. “This school has totally messed up my life,” Colon told Time. “I can’t do anything. I can’t continue my education. I can’t continue to go forward in my career.”
Hobbled the DOE office charged with investigating for-profit college abuses. The office, which was created in 2016 and included more than a dozen investigators, has been reduced to three people, the New York Times reports. This means several investigations into the nation’s largest for-profits have been abandoned, the Times reported. At the same time, the new investigations supervisor is Julian Schmoke, former dean at the for-profit DeVry University. “Secretary DeVos has has filled the department with for-profit college hacks who only care about making sham schools rich and shutting down investigations into fraud,” U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) told the Times…
From attacks on voting rights to police killings of unarmed civilians and growing inequities in earnings and wealth, the civil rights gains of the past six decades are facing threat after threat. But one front in the fight for full equality—meaningful access to higher education—is particularly urgent. With 65 percent of jobs soon requiring more than a high school diploma, the need is greater than ever, especially for African Americans and other communities of color.
More than 50 years ago, Congress passed the Higher Education Act (HEA), intending to open the doors to higher education by providing students with financial assistance and low-interest loans. Conventional wisdom has traditionally held two things: 1) Higher education is the great equalizer; 2) It is okay to take out debt for the tickets to upward mobility: a college education and a home mortgage. These life decisions—and the struggles and sacrifices that made them possible—helped to build and grow the Black middle class.
Now, aspirations for advancement are colliding with the discriminatory legacy of the financial crisis. Our country’s student loan bill has skyrocketed. Student debt is now the second-largest source of household debt after housing. Forty-four million Americans have $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. One reason: Since the 1990s, the average tuition and fees at our universities have jumped an average of 157–237 percent depending on the type of institution.
As with the Great Recession, people of color, poor people, and predatory institutions are at the center of this socioeconomic catastrophe. They must also be at the center of the solutions.
We must face up to the fact that students of color are more likely to borrow for their education and, unfortunately, to default on these loans. Even Black college graduates default on their loans at almost four times the rate of their White counterparts and are more likely to default than even White dropouts.
This increased risk of defaulting on student loans is the direct result of inequities in financial resources, as well as discrimination in hiring, salaries and, all too often, social capital. In 2013, the median White family had 13 times more wealth than the median black family and 10 times more wealth than the median Latino family. African American students tend to take out more debt than their White counterparts, and both Blacks and Latinos are more likely to default than Whites. Since Blacks with bachelor’s degrees earn only 79 percent and Latinos only 83 percent of what their White counterparts earn, African American and Hispanic students have a harder time repaying their loans.
Further contributing to the crisis, Blacks and Latinos comprise 41 percent of the students at the high-cost, low-quality, for-profit colleges. These institutions frequently fail to prepare students for high-salary jobs, instead saddling them with exorbitant debts that they can’t repay.
How then can we address these challenges? Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to ease regulations on the loan servicers and for-profit colleges that have gotten us into this mess. U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) of the House Education and Workforce Committee would take this effort even further. Her proposal for reauthorizing the HEA, the “PROSPER Act,” would ensure that students will have to borrow more to get a postsecondary education with the very real likelihood that they will never pay off the debt. This would all but guarantee that predatory, for-profit programs would continue to rise exponentially right alongside our national student debt bill. Efforts to make student aid more costly for students rather than hold institutions accountable for what they do with the aid reflects either a catastrophic misunderstanding of the root causes of this issue or something more disturbing: the blatant effort to recreate the system we had before the HEA was enacted. In this system, traditional college was by and large only accessible to the wealthy, who were usually White.
Fixing our broken student debt system should not mean un-doing years of progress since the HEA or saddling marginalized groups with a lifetime of debt. Instead, we need to hold student loan servicers, debt collectors, and institutions of all kinds accountable for their practices. African Americans, Latinos and low-income students from all backgrounds need more income-based grants, loans, financial assistance, and admissions policies that tear down barriers of color, culture, and class, not support them.
Helping college graduates to repay their loans isn’t the only challenge. The challenge is enabling and empowering all our young people to make their fullest contribution to our country. This is, in the last analysis, a debt that all Americans owe to ourselves and our nation’s future.
Wade Henderson is a founding board member of the Center for Responsible Lending. You can follow Wade on Twitter @Wade4Justice.
Now just over a year in office, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos continues to be a lightning rod in the field of American education. The debate over her K-12 philosophy and policy ideas remains vigorous in many quarters. Education Week’s opinion editors were interested in hearing from people in the field about what they believe matters most when it comes to schooling children. To that end, we asked a handful of participants to briefly consider if they were given the chance to sit down with the secretary, what issue or course of action would they urge her to prioritize, and how would they make their case. This is what they had to say. —The Editors
It’s no secret that change is underway in education and beyond. Industries are morphing, jobs are shifting, and new careers are emerging because of technology. A century-long trend toward a highly skilled workforce is accelerating, and our economy will demand greater levels of education.
More Americans, both young and old, will need education beyond high school. And our institutions will have to evolve in profound ways to meet their needs.
That’s why we must seize this moment as Congress debates the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which governs colleges and universities and provides them with federal financial support. Our national legislative framework must enable and encourage the changes we will need over the next decades to build a stronger system for higher education. Our country has changed significantly since the act was last reauthorized in 2008…
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