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Working Learners

Educating Our Entire Workforce for Success in the 21st Century

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/06/img/workinglearners_onpage.jp
gSOURCE: iStockphoto 

Helping millions of American participate in education and training that
yields a postsecondary credential is crucial for both America’s economic
competitiveness and a stable, growing middle class.

By Louis Soares <http://www.americanprogress.org/experts/SoaresLouis.html>
| June 22, 2009 

Read
<http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/06/pdf/working_learners.pdf>
the full report (pdf)

Download
<http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/06/pdf/working_learners_execsum
m.pdf>  the executive summary (pdf)

On May 8 President Barack Obama encouraged those who have lost their jobs to
“no longer just look for a new job, but also to prepare for a better job.”
The administration quickly proposed changes to the primary college-tuition
grant program—Pell Grants—and the unemployment insurance system to bring
postsecondary education within the reach of greater numbers of working class
Americans.

What the president proposes, however, is but a first step to address the
nation’s need for a well-trained workforce and the needs of those who have
entered the workforce but who require further education to get ahead. These
“working learners” are now served by a system that is overly focused on
crisis intervention at the point of unemployment and getting people back
into jobs, and not focused sufficiently on the need for training and
education.

Our nation’s existing postsecondary system is bifurcated, with any part
adequately providing for the education of working learners. On the one hand
are the tightly-structured, traditional college programs that serve the
needs of full-time students who are ushered through the system toward
completion of a college degree. This system, however, is ill-suited to
workers who receive their education over longer periods during their work
and family lives, and during occasional gaps in employment. On the other
hand, there is a more flexible workforce development system, but it provides
an unstructured hodge-podge of training that often fails to lead to a
well-conceived career path and that produces little in the way of meaningful
educational credentials for both the worker and the employer.

Change is clearly needed. The system’s hallmarks to bring the 75 million
potential working learners the skills they and our economy need are:

These “working learners” are now served by a system that is overly focused
on crisis intervention at the point of unemployment and getting people back
into jobs, and not focused sufficiently on the need for training and
education.

Flexibility. Very few working learners can take four years out of their
lives to achieve a four-year college degree. Yet they can attend class as it
fits in with the rest of their lives over longer periods of time. A system
that provides for working learners must be flexible enough to accommodate
this reality.

Credentials. Many working learners who receive useful and relevant training
fall short of receiving an actual degree or certificate. It often takes an
extended period of time for working learners to achieve such a credential,
leaving them with nothing to show for their educational achievements for
many years. To provide a basis for employers to evaluate workers’ skill
levels—and working learners’ evidence of their accomplishments—the system
must offer credits and credentials for academic achievements short of
traditional degrees.

Coaching. For many working learners the career path is long and has many
detours. They do not necessarily have a good sense of the opportunities
available or the training needed to take advantage of those opportunities.
Professional services with career coaches who are well versed in the
staffing needs of employers, the skills required to fill those positions and
the educational opportunities available are necessary intermediaries in the
labor market.

Resources. The existing workforce development resources are inadequate to
provide education to working learners, most of whom have limited capacity to
pay their own way and many of whom have financial obligations to their
families.

To address these needs, changes are needed in our postsecondary education
system and our workforce development system. Specifically, we need to:

Create a new Micro-Pell Grant. The Pell Grant program is not currently
available to those who want to take one course per semester or an
occupational certificate. This inflexibility makes the program inaccessible
to many working learners. The Higher Education Act should be modified to
create a special Pell Grant without this restriction funded with an
additional $2 billion available from other changes in the program.

Invest in community colleges. Community colleges have strong academic
standards and are in the business of offering credentials and credit for
academic achievement. They are in a strong position within their communities
to play a leadership role in meeting workforce needs of employers and the
educational needs of working learners. They need to modify their programs to
provide the greater flexibility these students require. To do this, however,
will , it will require greater funding and incentives—some of which can be
available through provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
and the Access and Completion Incentive Fund.

Modify workforce development programs. Congress needs to modify Title I and
II of the Workforce Investment Act to:

§  Align several funding streams under WIA to ensure that education does not
take a back seat to crisis intervention and that the system is structured to
best serve the common needs of all working learners instead of being
splintered into several, separate, inadequate programs. 

§  Enhance the U.S. Employment Service and place it in charge of the
existing WIA One Stop System to run it as a continuous service career
coaching center. 

§  Set national postsecondary education goals for working learners that
include less-than-college credit benchmarks for progress. 

§  Convert the local Workforce Investment Board network under WIA into a
quality assurance overseer to ensure that the partners in the new system—the
providers of education, training and coaching—adequately serve the needs of
both the employer and worker communities. 

Helping millions of American participate in education and training that
yields a postsecondary credential is crucial for both America’s economic
competitiveness and a stable, growing middle class. This paper presents ways
to build upon President Obama’s Pell Grant and unemployment insurance
proposals so that government programs and services help “working learners”
combine employment and education over their working lives so they may
advance through successful careers, however circumstances in the economy may
change, and contribute to our national economic success.

Read
<http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/06/pdf/working_learners.pdf>
the full report (pdf)

Download
<http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/06/pdf/working_learners_execsum
m.pdf>  the executive summary (pdf)

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Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner. Put

yourself in his place so that you may understand what he learns and

the way he understands it. (Kierkegaard)

 

To freely bloom - that is my definition of success. -Gerry Spence, lawyer
(b. 1929)    [Benjamin would be proud, I think.]

 


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