Building Affordable, Accessible, and Supportive Pathways to Quality Credential Completion, Equity, and Economic Mobility

By Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, December 06, 2022

Highlights from the 2022 Skills in the States Forum State Policy Technical Assistance Initiatives Meeting

Last month, National Skills Coalition (NSC) hosted over 200 attendees at the Skills in the States Forum in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Forum convened diverse stakeholders from around the country, including state workforce development, education, data, and human services advocates, policy leaders, and experts, for a national conversation focused on policy and coalition building.

Leading up to the two-day convening, NSC created space for more than 60 of its state technical assistance academy and initiative partners to come together around a shared goal of making college work for all by improving the affordability of and access to high-quality and supportive skills training pathways that lead to good jobs and economic mobility. The meeting was designed to:

  • Build relationships between state and college leaders involved in technical assistance initiatives and advocacy related to quality credential access, attainment, and equity
  • Share how NSC is supporting state policy development to increase equitable access to and outcomes for quality credentials and career pathways
  • Discuss policy developments, innovations, and lessons learned through state initiatives
  • Learn more about the levers, resources, and information that state and college leaders need to advance their systems change and policy goals

Meeting participants, which included state policy and agency staff, community college system leaders, philanthropic representatives, and research and data experts, came together around four key topics for building affordable, accessible, and supportive pathways to quality credential completion, equity, and economic mobility:

  • Racial equity: stakeholder inclusion and equitable outcomes;
  • Quality assurance: frameworks, data, and implementation;
  • Access and affordability: funding and holistic supports; and
  • Career pathways: programs & partnerships.

Attendees shared insights into how their state is (or could be) tackling these issues, what is working and how it could be scaled, challenges their state faces, opportunities to work across systems, and effective levers for change. A few high-level themes arose across topics throughout the meeting, providing direction and impetus for our shared work moving forward. To improve access to and equity in our postsecondary and workforce systems and to more effectively advance learners towards economic mobility, we need to:

  • Improve alignment and collaboration across systems and sectors, including through data sharing and integration; the leveraging of federal programs like SNAP E&T, WIOA, and TANF; and partnerships across education, community-based organizations, and employers.
  • Improve data collection, consistency, disaggregation, sharing, and transparency for understanding student outcomes in education and the labor market, identifying equity gaps, informing quality frameworks, communicating value and pathways to consumers, and case making for policy change. For example:
    • Bolster relationships and communication between data and education stakeholders, such as in Arkansas;
    • Collect and share labor force outcomes data through a universal data portal to inform quality assurance frameworks, such as in Utah and New Mexico; and
    • Identify and close data gaps by improving data collection on noncredit and adult education programs, such as in Arizona and Oregon.
  • Provide free or low-cost avenues to access college, short-term training, and wraparound supports, especially coaching/navigators and child care. For example:
  • Leverage state investments, federal programs (SNAP E&T, WIOA, TANF), employer voice, and community college partnerships to align credentials to in-demand jobs and build career pathways maps with multiple on- and off-ramps, with strategic pathways for adults without a high school diploma, incumbent workers, and English language learners. Streamlining across systems is also important. For example:
    • Federal Quality Jobs, Equity, Strategy, and Training (QUEST) Grant to Arizona;
    • State funding for career and technical education pathways in Tennessee;
    • Alignment between state financial aid investments with career pathways, such as FastForward and G3 in Virginia; and
    • Streamlined adult education/Integrated Education and Training (IET), workforce development, and higher education systems to build career pathways and programs, such as in Louisiana.
  • Especially in tricky political contexts, approach equity from multiple angles, using data to establish evidence of gaps, addressing different forms of equity, including but not limited to racial equity, and establishing interventions designed to serve specific student populations, including Indigenous students, Black students, English language learners, and rural students. For example:

NSC is grateful to our partners for sharing their expertise, experiences, and insights, throughout the Skills in the States Forum, and for working every day to build accessible and equitable pathways to postsecondary success and economic mobility for learners and workers.

Check out photos from the State Technical Assistance Pre-Meeting on our Flickr page and insights and highlights from the event on Twitter: #SSF22.