Workforce Update: Do short-term training programs work for working adults? 

By Rachel Vilsack, March 19, 2021

Plain and simple: we need to put people back to work in order to propel an economic recovery. That means ensuring workers without a college degree are ready to start new and better jobs as soon as possible. The JOBS Act is critical to securing an inclusive economic recovery for workers and businesses hardest hit by the pandemic. JOBS expands the Pell Grant program to support enrollment in high quality short-term training programs that lead to employment. The bill also creates meaningful on-ramps for individuals who might otherwise never pursue postsecondary credentials.

Reports show that adult learners see positive outcomes from short-term training programs

Several national studies show the impact that short-term credential program have on student outcomes. A recent report from Urban Institute and Dr. Harry Holzer compared the outcomes associated with short-term credential programs. Notable findings include:

  • Certificate completion rates are higher than associate degree programs for students over the age of 30 and students with dependents.
  • Average annual earnings of certificate holders are 10 percent higher than average earnings of otherwise similar high school graduates.

The Institute of Education Sciences released findings of the Department of Education’s Experimental Sites Initiative to expand Pell Grant eligibility to short-term occupational programs. The pilot found:

  • Increased program enrollment (67 percent) and completion rates (47 percent) among students receiving Pell Grant support
  • Programs where no support was provided showed lower enrollment (52 percent) and completion rates (38 percent).

States programs see strong wage outcomes

Many states are already well positioned to help working adults rapidly retrain for the economic recovery and have a track record of supporting people’s career aspirations. States who have implemented their own tuition assistance programs to serve adult learners have seen strong returns on wages. For example: Iowa’s GAP Tuition Assistance Program was designed by 60 sector partnerships representing more than 300 employers. GAP prepares workers to enter in-demand occupations, and program completers saw an average quarterly wage gain of 37 percent. Likewise, Virginia’s New Economy Workforce Grant Program saw an average wage gain of 25-50 percent after participants attained their credential.

Public data on the outcomes of short-term training is essential

To be clear, this data does not suggest that all short-term credentials, or providers that offer training, are equal. Rather, these statistics demonstrate that short-term credentials can play an important role in meeting the economic needs of nontraditional students, especially working adults. Quality assurance criteria are needed to ensure a high-value student learning experience that connects to in-demand jobs needed by employers and offers a clear pathway to additional education or training.

Public data on employment and wage outcomes of credential holders must be available to ensure that any equity gaps are identified and corrected. To do this, data must be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, and other demographic characteristics. Additionally, learners should know if a quality credential provides value towards achieving their employment goal. Therefore, individuals themselves need access to the employment and earnings outcomes associated with the credentials they’re seeking.

Take action today

Nearly all of the jobs created after the Great Recession required some college education beyond a high school diploma. And the federal workforce system can only train a fraction of those who are in need of retraining assistance. It’s clear that some workers are at risk of being left behind.

Overwhelmingly, America’s voters support more short-term higher education options so that people can quickly retrain. And the JOBS Act has always had strong bipartisan support in Congress. By passing the JOBS Act, the 117th Congress could signal to the millions of American workers still sidelined from this recession – as well as workers who were previously held back by structural barriers of racism or lack of opportunity – that there is a pathway to education and training that will lead to better jobs.

An inclusive economic recovery means no student gets left behind. Tell your Members in Washington to support the JOBS Act and high quality short-term programs that will fuel our comeback.