Today, education leaders from twelve community and technical college systems across the country—including those in Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington—sent letters to federal policymakers, urging them to make higher education policy more responsive to the needs of today’s students.
The letters, which were sent to Senate HELP Committee and House Education and Labor Committee leadership, call for the adoption of a job-driven Community College Compact; a set of postsecondary policy proposals developed by National Skills Coalition (NSC) and vetted by a range of stakeholders, including academic institutions, employers, community-based organizations and workforce development boards. If adopted by Congress, these policies would increase access to high-quality education and training programs, crucial support services and transparent information regarding postsecondary programs for students of all ages and backgrounds. Likely 2020 voters and business leaders also strongly support the Compact policies, as demonstrated by recent polling conducted by ALG Research on behalf of NSC.
Community and technical college leaders are voicing their shared support for the Community College Compact in light of the impending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA, which is the most comprehensive federal law governing postsecondary institutions and programs, has been eligible for reauthorization by Congress since 2008. Senate HELP Committee Chairman, Lamar Alexander, and Ranking Member, Patty Murray, as well as House Education and Labor Committee Chairman, Bobby Scott, and Ranking Member, Virginia Foxx, have expressed interest in reauthorizing this sweeping legislation before the end of this Congress. Additionally, the White House has named the modernization of the Higher Education Act as one of its top priorities.
The letters urge federal policymakers to consider the following policy changes:
Eliminate the bias against working learners in need of federal financial aid
In today’s economy, approximately 80 percent of all jobs require some form of education or training, and more than 50 percent of jobs can be classified as “middle-skill”—meaning they call for more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree. As a result, community and technical colleges are working to increase access to high quality, short-term programs that lead to in-demand credentials. However, most federal financial aid available today is reserved for students who are enrolled in programs of study that are at least 600 clock hours over 15 weeks—an outdated policy that fails to account for the training needs of individuals in our 21st century economy.
Therefore, community and technical college leaders are urging lawmakers to consider legislation—such as the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 839; H.R. 3497 ) led by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Richmond (D-LA-02), Levin (D-MI-09), Horsford (D-NV-04), Gonzalez (R-OH-16), Herrera-Beutler (R-WA-03) and Katko (R-NY-24)—that would expand Pell grant eligibility to students enrolled in high-quality education and training programs that are at least 150 clock hours of instruction over 8 weeks.
Make higher education and workforce outcomes data comprehensive and transparent
Since higher education is becoming more closely linked with finding success in the labor market, data about the outcomes of postsecondary programs should be available to students, parents, employers and policymakers. However, as community and technical college leaders note in their letters, existing legal restrictions on the collection of student-level data continue to hinder the accessibility of this important information.
To help provide consumers with better data and relieve institutions of duplicative reporting requirements, community and technical college administrators called for action on the College Transparency Act (S.800; H.R. 1766). Introduced by Senators Warren (D-MA), Cassidy (R-LA), Whitehouse (D-RI) and Scott (R-SC) and Representatives Mitchell (R-MI-10), Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), Stefanik (R-NY-21) and Harder (D-CA-10), this bipartisan bill aims to establish a secure, privacy-protected postsecondary student level data network administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), to which colleges would be able to safely and easily report their data. The data would then be available as a decision-making tool for current and prospective students—making it easier for individuals to improve their lives through education and training.
Ensure the success of today’s college students by strengthening support services
Due to the diversity of the student populations they serve, community and technical college leaders recognize the growing importance of support services such as career counseling, childcare and transportation assistance. While states and higher education administrators across the country are working hard to implement career pathway models that provide nontraditional students with the services they need to succeed in the postsecondary education system, their efforts receive little support at the federal level.
To address this issue, community and technical college leaders are calling for the consideration of the Gateway to Careers Act (S. 1117)—legislation introduced by Senators Hassan (D-NH), Young (R-IN), Kaine (D-VA) and Gardner (R-CO). This bipartisan bill would make federal funding available on a competitive basis to institutions that are working in partnership to serve students experiencing barriers to postsecondary access and completion.
Provide targeted funding for valuable partnerships between community colleges and businesses
Community and technical college leaders work with industry stakeholders every day to provide high-quality training and academic instruction to future workers through sector partnerships. However, Congress has not invested in these partnerships at a scale that would sustain economic competitiveness since the expiration of the Trade Adjustment Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program in FY 2014. The purpose of the TAAACT grant program, which allocated $2 billion in funding to states from FY 2011-2014, was to increase the capacity of community colleges to address the challenges of today’s workforce through job training for adults and other nontraditional students.
Due to the proven impact of community college-business partnerships, community and technical college leaders are calling for the consideration of legislation that would expand and support these collaboratives, an example of which is the Community College to Career Fund in Higher Education Act (S. 1612; H.R. 2920). Introduced by Senators Duckworth (D-IL), Smith (D-MN), Feinstein (D-CA), Durbin (D-IL), Shaheen (D-NH), Van Hollen (D-MD) and Representative Kelly (D-IL-02), this legislation aims to provide academic institutions and businesses with competitive grant funding so that they can continue to work together to deliver valuable educational or career training programs to students and workers.