Democrats in Congress are looking to send billions of dollars in new funding to community colleges to support free two-year post-secondary education for students, but that could skip job-oriented education if policymakers don’t. not mind, according to prominent community college and workforce education leaders.
Twenty college administrators, researchers and entrepreneurs said in a recent letter to leaders of the House and Senate education committees that they feared the “college pledge” provisions being considered by lawmakers would leave learners out. job-oriented. As a result, the policies would only serve a fraction of the population seeking to pursue higher education.
Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee have included a free community college program – called America’s College Promise – in their part of the Build Back Better Act currently under development in Congress as a program of budget reconciliation. The current form of comprehensive legislation has a strong focus on traditional higher education, although $ 2 billion has been set aside for community college workforce development grants.
“What Americans need is an education that prepares them to lead successful and fulfilling lives, find jobs in their fields of study, earn enough wages to support their families, and to return to college if necessary to learn new skills and stay abreast of a changing economy, âthe letter said. âTime is running out as the post-pandemic economy takes off. We urge you to act quickly, positioning all Americans to take advantage of the new opportunities it opens. “
Congress should use current and additional federal funding to push post-secondary education providers to take a more employer and job-centric approach, said Ryan Craig, CEO of Achieve Partners and one of the signatories of the letter. This could include funding priorities focused on faster and cheaper routes to good jobs, cumulative degrees or work-integrated learning, for example.
âMost, if not all, of the additional funding is not directed to the workforce side, but rather to the traditional university side,â Craig said. âTo that extent, we think it is pushing community colleges in the wrong direction. “
These policies are especially needed in today’s job market, where there is high demand for skilled technical workers who need more education than high school but less than a bachelor’s degree, said Tamar Jacoby, president of Opportunity America. and one of the signatories.
âThe economy is pushing people into this kind of quick, skill-based course, but there’s no way to pay for it,â Jacoby said. âThis is what the group is asking to be rectified. It should be rectified whether or not they adopt a provision on the academic promise, but it should certainly be rectified if they adopt a provision on the academic promise.
The letter outlines three main elements of congressional support that are necessary for employment-oriented education: adequate funding for academic and employment-oriented programs, funding for non-credit workforce programs, and financial assistance for learners enrolled in shorter programs. Currently, many short-term workforce-oriented community college programs are not eligible for Title IV funding.
The authors recognize that funding should only go to high quality programs, and they have described criteria that policymakers should consider for both credit and non-credit programs, for example if they lead to degrees with value in the labor market, allow cumulative degrees, provide enveloping supports and offer learning opportunities in the workplace. But not all programs will meet all the criteria, the letter says, so the most important thing is to align the programs with the needs of the local labor market.
Ensuring an equal distribution of community college funding between credited and non-credited programs will help appropriately address the experiences of adult learners – especially low-income adults of color – who have often been left behind in the education system. post-secondary education, said Chauncy Lennon. , vice-president of the Lumina Foundation and one of the signatories of the letter.
âAt Lumina, we’re excited about all the conversations we see around investing, and we want to make sure the conversation covers the needs of all types of students who come to community colleges,â said Lennon.
Stakeholders continue to support Congress’ desire to devote more resources to community colleges. But because institutions are like Swiss Army knives – they do a lot of different things and educate many types of people for different purposes, Jacoby said – the goal is to make sure these resources support all facets of the world. ‘institution.
âThe point now is that if we’re going to set aside billions of dollars for people to go to community college, let’s not leave this burning need aside,â Jacoby said. âThese people are already late. Letâs not leave them any further behind.