What immigrant advocates need to know about the new Perkins Act

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, May 01, 2019

This is a joint blog post by members of the Immigration and Federal Skills Policy workgroup, a set of national organizations that meet monthly in Washington, DC, to address workforce development and adult education policy issues pertaining to immigrants. National Skills Coalition, National Immigration Forum, Migration Policy Institute and the National Immigration Law Center are co-conveners of the workgroup.

Skills advocates have an upcoming opportunity to ensure that their states’ postsecondary Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are responsive to immigrant constituents.

Last year, Congress reauthorized landmark legislation governing CTE programs. The 2018 law is called the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, and is colloquially known as Perkins V.

As states begin to gear up for the planning process required by the new law, skills advocates have a chance to speak up for effective policies and strategies that can serve immigrant adults and other CTE learners. These strategies can be incorporated into the Perkins state plans that are required to be submitted to the federal government in spring 2020.

(Want to know how your state can combine its Perkins and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act planning processes? Check out this recent guide from National Skills Coalition and Advance CTE.)

Key points to keep in mind for advocacy

  • Perkins is not just about high school students. Fully 40 percent of Perkins funding nationwide supports postsecondary programs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average age of CTE students in postsecondary programs is 26.3 years old.* State Perkins plans should specifically describe on-ramps for adult learners into CTE programs, to make clear that not all postsecondary participants would be coming directly from high school. Having well-designed on-ramps is especially important for immigrants, who are often working adults eager to access upskilling opportunities. States can capitalize on the fact that the new Perkins law adopts the definition of career pathways already used by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to help construct CTE pathways that provide multiple entry and exit points for individuals.
  • People of color are especially likely to be served by Perkins-funded programs. Approximately 13.2 percent of postsecondary CTE students are African American and 21.2 percent are Hispanic. These numbers are higher than their representation in the overall US adult population (12.3 percent African American and 18.1 percent Hispanic). While the reasons behind this over-representation are complex, the bottom line is that Perkins-funded programs should be thinking specifically about how to serve students of color, including those who are immigrants. (The nonprofit National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity has a wealth of resources to assist in this process.)
  • Perkins funding goes to institutions rather than individuals. Unlike WIOA, Perkins funding is not linked to individual jobseekers in the form of a training voucher or a seat in an English language class. Rather, Perkins serves individuals, including immigrants, through its support of the institutions they attend. While Perkins-funded programs are required to collect some data on the students they serve, the “special populations” category does not include nativity. Therefore, there is no direct measure of how many immigrants are served by Perkins-funded programs. However, English learners (ELs) are included in special populations reporting, and about 87 percent of all ELs nationwide are immigrants.
  • Creative use of Perkins funding can help improve opportunities for immigrants and US-born students alike. Some localities have used even modest amounts of Perkins funding to improve program offerings and services to immigrants and English learners. Often, these efforts can support US-born students at the same time. For example:
    • The Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas, blends Perkins and WIOA resources to support innovative Integrated Education and Training programs in seven occupations. Given the local community’s demographics, the program serves primarily Latino participants, including immigrants and English learners.
    • Westchester Community College in New York has used Perkins funding to develop curriculum for a noncredit healthcare program, which is part of the college’s career pathway to several credit-bearing healthcare programs. Given the college’s location in the suburban New York City area, these programs serve a diverse range of students, including immigrants as well as those born in the United States.
    • Miami Dade College in Florida has used Perkins funding to support a navigator position – a type of advisor who can help immigrant adults who come to the US with a credential from their home country, and want to brush up on their skills in a community college program. Participants come from a wide range of backgrounds, including Cuban and Haitian immigrants among many others.
  • Perkins funding can also help skilled immigrants strengthen the CTE teacher workforce. The CTE field is experiencing dramatic shortages of teachers in almost all subjects, even as the demand for programs is expanding and student populations become more diverse. The Perkins Act requires states to indicate in their plans how local districts and other partners will recruit and prepare teachers and other CTE staff, including equipping them to work with special populations. Immigrants who have degrees and experience from abroad are an untapped resource that is uniquely well-equipped to help states meet the demand for CTE teachers with relevant industry experience and the capacity to work with a diverse range of learners. In addition, Perkins does provide a potential way to support such non-traditional teacher pipelines: funding for creative local teacher training initiatives through its Innovation and Modernization grant program.

Need a Perkins Act 101?

If you are new to the CTE world, it may be helpful to get a more general overview of how this legislation works. Perkins funds CTE services, previously known as vocational education. CTE programs exist at the secondary (high school) and postsecondary (typically community college) level.

A total of $1.2 billion in Perkins funding is distributed by the US Department of Education each year. Unlike WIOA and other workforce funding, this money does not fund specific“slots” for individual students. Rather, it goes to school districts, higher education institutions, and other entities to support costs such as laboratories and classroom equipment, training materials, and curriculum development.

Some Perkins-funded classes are part of “programs of study” that include up to two years of study at the high school level followed by up to two years of postsecondary study.

Get data about your state’s Perkins-funded programs from the Perkins Data Explorer. Find background information on CTE from National Skills Coalition, Advance CTE, and ACTE.


*Data analysis courtesy of CLASP.