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New data spotlights literacy gaps among Americans at the state and local level

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
New data spotlights literacy gaps among Americans at the state and local level

Data released recently from the US Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences is providing a first-of-its-kind look at American adults’ literacy and numeracy gaps at the state and local (county) level. The data comes from the widely respected Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Survey of Adult Skills, also known as the PIAAC. The new data will be a powerful tool for advocates looking to illustrate the impact of skill gaps on their local economies.

The U.S. PIAAC Skills Map is an interactive mapping tool that enables members of the public to view estimates of adult literacy and numeracy skills in each of the fifty US states and 3,000+ counties. These estimates are based on data collected in three rounds of US PIAAC survey (2012, 2014, and 2017) as well as data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (2013-2017).

The mapping tool provides estimates of the proportion of US adults ages 16–74 who have the lowest levels of proficiency (at or below Level 1 of the PIAAC), versus those with middle proficiency (at Level 2), or the highest levels of proficiency (at or above Level 3). The tool also allows users to make statistical comparisons between various states and counties.

More information about the data source is available at the PIAAC Gateway website. Sample test questions from the PIAAC assessment are also available for users to review.

Using this data for advocacy

Advocates can use PIAAC data to illustrate the number of adults in their communities who lack key literacy and numeracy skills. This information can help explain the need for adult education services such as high school equivalency or English language classes. It can highlight the importance of accelerated learning strategies such as Integrated Education and Training that combine instruction in foundational skills with training for a specific industry.

Data can help policymakers understand who in their communities lacks key foundational skills, and how greater investment in public policies to support education and workforce development can help to upskill local residents. Data can also help local chambers of commerce, economic developers, and business leaders to understand the potential economic impact of upskilling their incumbent workforce.

National Skills Coalition used PIAAC data as the basis for our 2017 Foundational Skills in the Service Sector report focusing on retail, hospitality and healthcare workers, and an accompanying webinar. (View slides and recording.)

NSC also used PIAAC data to inform recent research specifically focused on digital literacy skills, including industry-specific fact sheets for manufacturinghealth and social workhospitalityretail, and construction as well as the Applying a Racial Equity Lens to Digital Literacy fact sheet. An additional, full-length digital literacy data report is forthcoming.

Stay tuned for additional updates from NSC on using the PIAAC local-level data for skills policy advocacy.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education

Federal government releases COVID-19 guidance for adult education programs

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
Federal government releases COVID-19 guidance for adult education programs

The US Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) last Friday issued Program Memorandum OCTAE 20-3, titled Adult Education and Family Literacy Act and COVID-19 – Frequently Asked Questions.

The memorandum was sent to state directors of adult education and is intended to inform both states and local adult education providers in the field. There are more than 2,200 such providers funded under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, also known as Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). These providers serve roughly 1.5 million American adults each year via adult basic education, high school equivalency, and English language classes.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many adult education programs have moved classes online, temporarily closed physical offices, rapidly prepared their staff and learners to use new digital tools, and dramatically shifted their ways of doing business. The new guidance will equip state and local adult education leaders to continue their work with much-needed assurances from federal partners.

New guidance provides flexibility, clarity for adult educators

The new memorandum answers a number of questions submitted by adult educators to OCTAE in recent weeks. Topics covered include WIOA performance reporting, performance negotiations, states’ upcoming competitions to award local provider contracts, distance learning requirements, testing protocols, and policies regarding costs covered.

In summary, the guidance assures states that:

  • The US Departments of Education and Labor will not make any determinations of performance success or failure based on data from the current Program Year 2019 (ending June 30, 2020).


  • WIOA performance negotiations between OCTAE and the states are expected to continue as scheduled, though the Department will be flexible in scheduling meetings with states given that many state officials have pressing responsibilities as part of COVID-19 response efforts.


  • States that had previously issued Requests for Proposals anticipating that they would award new local provider contracts for the year beginning July 1, 2020 are permitted to adjust their planned process. In particular, they may instead 1) suspend their FY2020 competitions for a one-year period and simply extend their current providers’ grants, OR 2) adjust competition deadlines, delaying the awarding of new grants until a later date and extending current providers’ contracts in the meantime. In either case, states must do their best to ensure that any changes in their competition plans do not result in a gap in service delivery for adult learners.


  • States can demonstrate that adult education distance learning participants have achieved the required minimum 12 hours of “actual contact” in several ways. Specifically, the required contact hours can be accrued through telephone, video, teleconference, or online communication, where participant and program staff can interact and through which participant identity is verifiable. (This will help providers to ensure that adult learners in programs that have newly converted to a distance learning format can be counted for performance reporting purposes.)


  • States now have increased flexibility in conducting pre/post tests for adult education participants. These tests are used by providers to demonstrate learning gains and meet WIOA performance requirements. Typically, these tests must be conducted in person. The new guidance affirms that states may choose to develop procedures to implement virtual test proctoring, with appropriate test security measures.


The guidance also provided detailed information about how states can record distance learning activities for adult learners via the National Reporting System, and provided information on how states might want to use the Measurable Skill Gain measure to demonstrate performance outcomes.

Learn more about each of these elements in the full memorandum.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education
As States Gear Up for Perkins Planning, Advocates Can Help Shed Light on Role of Adults in Postsecondary CTE

This blog post is published jointly with the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), and also appears on the CLASP blog. 

Skills advocates can inform and improve the upcoming planning process for Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs by analyzing information about the demographics and needs of adult postsecondary students. Incorporating this information can also help to ensure that planning is responsive to the needs of businesses, as many adult postsecondary students are already engaged in the labor market. 

Too often, conversations about postsecondary CTE assume that most participants are progressing directly from high school CTE classes into a postsecondary program. The data indicate otherwise. The average person in a postsecondary CTE classroom is an adult in their late 20s. He or she is more likely to be economically disadvantaged and more likely to be Black or Hispanic compared to the U.S. population overall. This population is likely to have work and family responsibilities that younger students may not.

Fully understanding who is in our CTE classrooms is especially relevant as states prepare to implement the newly reauthorized Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the Twenty-First Century Act, commonly known as Perkins V.  

State leaders should consider the economic, age, and racial makeup of their postsecondary CTE populations to ensure their programs are responding to the specific assets and needs that these learners bring to the table.

 What do the data tell us?

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), roughly 3.7 million postsecondary students participated in CTE courses in 2016-17.* They were primarily enrolled in community colleges and technical schools, which serve a disproportionate share of low-income students and students of color.

Among these students, 1.6 million, or 44 percent, were considered economically disadvantaged. This is a far higher share than the overall percentage of working-age Americans who live in poverty. Students of color were also disproportionately represented in CTE courses, with 21.2 percent identified as Hispanic and 13.2 percent identified as African American.  

ED’s Perkins Data Explorer unfortunately does not include age data. However, the National Center for Education Statistics’ 2015-2016 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study shows that postsecondary students whose field of study is CTE on average are 26.3 years old.**

It is important to note the average age difference among races/ethnicities:  African American students average 28.7 years of age, while Hispanics average 25.1 years.   More information is needed to understand the importance of these differences for policy and practice.

Specific details of this demographic data vary by state. But as state leaders and skills advocates begin the Perkins V state planning process, the above overview provides a jumping-off point for discussions about their postsecondary CTE populations.

 What can state leaders and advocates do?

  • Advocate for sufficient CTE resources that are allocated as appropriate given state needs.  At the national level, approximately 40 percent of Perkins funds are allocated to postsecondary CTE, but this level varies substantially across states. Advocates should encourage state policymakers to carefully consider ED’s question in the state plan template --“What is the right ‘split of funds’ between secondary and postsecondary programs given today’s environment?” -- and ensure that the state has designated appropriate resources to support postsecondary CTE learners. Stakeholders can also advocate for additional investments in CTE by state and federal policymakers.
  • Ensure that state Perkins V plans outline on-ramps for working adults to postsecondary CTE programs. Postsecondary programs can ensure access for working adults in a variety of ways. In some cases, even secondary CTE programs can partners with adult education providers, as in this example from El Paso, Texas.
  • Bring allies to the table to spark new ideas. Perkins V now requires states to include their adult education state director as part of the planning process. States can draw on the expertise of these adult education experts to ensure that their postsecondary CTE planning reflects the abilities, needs, and interests of adult learners.
  • Capitalize on resources available from national partners. The nonprofit National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity has an array of resources that help postsecondary CTE programs respond to the needs of students of color. Similarly, Advance CTE has published a number of materials on equity issues, including four briefs on how advocates can address the harmful history of tracking low-income students and students of color into low-quality CTE programs, and ensure that high-quality CTE programs of today are helping to achieve greater racial equity.
  • Draw on state and local data to inform policy and planning conversations. Advocates can use the Perkins Data Explorer tool to better understand their state’s CTE student demographics and identify areas for further exploration or study. Other local data sources can help to flesh out this picture and illuminate how the system may be excelling or struggling to reach a particular population.

Ultimately, state Perkins V planning should consider the characteristics of older postsecondary CTE students who may have more significant work and family responsibilities than their younger peers. Policies that mistakenly assume most students come straight from high school without these responsibilities will not incent practice that best serve all students.


*Unless otherwise noted, statistics in this post reflect CLASP’s analysis of information from the Perkins Data Explorer.

** CLASP analysis of U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:16).

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Career and Technical Education

Better Together: How adult ed/CTE collaborations benefit workers and businesses

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
Better Together: How adult ed/CTE collaborations benefit workers and businesses

Advocates can create new upskilling opportunities, meet local business needs, and streamline training costs by launching partnerships between adult education organizations and Career and Technical Education (CTE) providers. That’s the message of National Skills Coalition’s new policy brief, Better Together.

The brief highlights an example from the border city of El Paso, Texas. Local leaders at the Socorro Independent School District (ISD) have capitalized on opportunities under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to improve alignment between the adult education and CTE systems. Their work has been supported by officials from the Texas Workforce Commission’s Adult Education and Literacy program (AEL). 

On the ground in Texas: What one adult ed/CTE partnership looks like

The story begins in 2015, when Socorro ISD adult education leadership reached out to their peers in the district’s CTE program with an idea. Could the district’s adult education program use its own funds to pay high school CTE teachers to instruct adult learners in the evenings?

The idea was a hit. Soon, the providers had developed a plan for offering Integrated Education and Training (IET) programs in four high-demand careers. The CTE partners would provide technical instruction, classroom space, and oversee the use of laboratories and equipment. The adult education partners would fund instructional costs, pay for materials and textbooks, and ensure that the foundational-skills component of coursework was well integrated with the occupational training. From the state level, broad, flexible policy guidance from AEL gave the Socorro partners freedom and confidence in pursuing their collaboration.

Today, the program regularly exceeds its state targets for IET enrollment. In the most recent year, Socorro served 184 adult learners – more than double their target of 76 individuals. Participants can pursue training in security services; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC); computer repair and maintenance; or a pre-apprenticeship electrician program.

Creative partnerships can seed IET innovation

IET is a proven model allows adults with reading, math, or English language skill gaps to build their foundational skills while simultaneously training for a specific occupation or industry. The model was first developed in Washington State, where it is known as I-BEST, and was formalized as a federal requirement in the 2014 WIOA legislation.

As the Socorro example shows, local communities can think creatively about how to implement IET programs. Looking beyond the WIOA-funded adult education provider world to collaborate with CTE partners can enable programs to offer training in occupations that require laboratory equipment or other resources that would be too expensive to purchase on their own. Similarly, partnering with CTE can make it easier to identify and contract with instructors who have industry experience and strong employer relationships.

In Texas, state leaders and other advocates have supported the development and implementation of IET models through the Accelerate Texas initiative, which pre-dated the federal WIOA legislation. Texas officials have also provided local adult education programs such as Socorro with opportunities to receive peer technical assistance and mentoring on topics such as IET and career pathways.

State and federal policies can facilitate strong partnerships

Skills advocates who are interested in replicating the Socorro example in their own states and localities can advocate for policies that will support such partnerships. For example:

  • Provide state policy guidance and technical assistance to spark ideas while allowing flexibility for local innovation. Guidance can detail a list of ways (beyond WIOA) that adult education partners can pay for IET; provide a roadmap for how adult ed providers can establish a Memorandum of Understanding with their local high school or postsecondary CTE program partners; explain how adult ed/CTE collaboration can ensure that IET programs are truly responsive to local business needs, and more.
  • Capitalize on federal policy mandates under WIOA and the Perkins Act to bring partners together to develop a shared strategic vision. States will be required to submit their WIOA and Perkins plans on a similar timeline in Spring 2020, making it easy for state officials to align planning processes and conversations.
  • Explore opportunities for how TANF and SNAP E&T can support upskilling. These key safety net programs are important tools for serving adults with foundational skills gaps. States can consider using some of these funds – as Texas does with TANF -- to support IET programs or similar efforts that will help adults transition off of public benefits.


Check out the full Better Together brief to learn more. Don’t forget about NSC’s prior publications, the IET 50-state Scan and State Policy Toolkit, for examples of state policies that go above and beyond WIOA requirements, and model language for drafting a policy in your state.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Career and Technical Education, Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act Implementation, Texas

Michigan Invests $1 Million in Integrated Education and Training

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
Michigan Invests $1 Million in Integrated Education and Training

Michigan has recently announced a new $1 million investment that will drive greater collaboration between workforce development and adult education partners across the state. The funding will support more widespread adoption of the Integrated Education and Training (IET) model, a proven strategy to equip adults with foundational skills gaps to meet local businesses’ talent needs.

A two-pronged effort: New funding and policy guidance

Local workforce boards will be receiving the new investment from the Michigan Talent Investment Agency (TIA) via funding formula. The source of the funds is the WIOA Title I Governor’s Reserve, more commonly referred to as WIOA discretionary funds or the 15% set-aside.

Simultaneously with the roll-out of the funding, TIA has released a new policy directive for both WIOA Title I workforce and Title II adult education providers. The directive will help program administrators by providing concrete guidance about the state’s requirements for IET and recommended tools to help them develop IET programs. National Skills Coalition helped to inform the development of this policy directive.

In particular, the directive:

  • Defines the kinds of institutions that may offer an IET program -- such as nonprofit education and training providers -- and clarifies that it is acceptable for two or more organizations to work in partnership to provide IET
  • Encourages providers that are implementing IET programs to co-enroll participants in WIOA Title I and II services as appropriate
  • Requires that IET programs be part of a regionally or locally defined career pathway that is business-driven, aligned to the skill needs of target industry sectors, and leads to industry-recognized credentials
  • Strongly encourages, but does not require, IET programs to lead to a recognized postsecondary credential
  • Provides a table demonstrating ways in which various funding sources can support IET, including WIOA, the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
  • Includes a lengthy appendix with links to resources for developing and funding IET programs and career pathways 

A win for business and workers alike

Both workers and businesses in Michigan will benefit from the new Integrated Education and Training investment and guidance. Given the state’s tight labor market, businesses will particularly benefit from the opportunity to help shape talent pipelines that will prepare new workers for in-demand jobs.

Workers themselves will benefit because IET is a powerful mechanism for helping adults with reading, math, or spoken English gaps to build their skills and qualify for in-demand jobs. Overall, there are approximately 1 million working-age Michiganders who lack key foundational skills and could benefit from opportunities to build their skills.

More specifically, there are approximately 30,000 Michigan residents who have already made the pro-active choices to upskill themselves by enrolling in some type of Title II-funded adult education program.  However, in Michigan as in other states, only a relatively small fraction of those individuals is enrolled in an IET program specifically (typically because such programs are not available in their locality). The new guidance and funding are expected to spur broader adoption of IET by providers and regions of the state that have not previously offered such programs, and thus improve the availability of IET to adult learners across Michigan. 

How employers will benefit

Businesses benefit from IET when they are able to influence the way that IET programs are designed in their local communities, and in Michigan they will be invited to do just that. When employers provide direct input to the instructors and administrators who are developing an IET program, it helps to ensure that participants will be acquiring the exact skills and credentials that are in-demand in the local labor market.

The new guidance states that training providers should draw on input from employers via the Michigan Industry Cluster Approach (MICA), local industry associations or chambers of commerce, or other means. (The MICA program is Michigan’s investment in sector partnerships, which NSC previously profiled in our Sector Partnerships 50-state scan.) 

What support are providers receiving to help them implement IET?

In addition to the information provided in the policy guidance, Michigan adult education and workforce development stakeholders have also received professional development training on IET. Two events coordinated by TIA in Fall 2018 brought adult education frontline staff and program administrators together with MichiganWorks! administrative staff for in-depth training on IET models and related implementation issues.

Presenters for these training sessions included TIA personnel as well as staff from the nonprofit National College Transition Network at World Education (World Ed). World Ed has worked with adult educators around the country who are implementing IET, and profiled eight such programs in their report Implementing Integrated Education and Training Programs in Diverse Contexts.

How can I advocate for greater investment in IET in my state?

  • Encourage your state to follow Michigan’s lead in investing WIOA Title I discretionary funds in IET
  • Review your state WIOA plan to see how IET is being implemented already, and advocate with your state workforce board or governor’s office to deepen the work through additional activities or investments
  • Use NSC’s IET State Policy Toolkit to borrow sample language for your state to use in developing its own administrative or legislative policy that goes beyond federal WIOA requirements. (Not sure if your state already has such a policy? Check out our IET 50-state Scan).


NSC and World Ed’s provision of technical assistance for this project was supported by a grant from Walmart. The opinions and ideas expressed in this blog post are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Walmart.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Michigan

How advocates can advance immigrant workforce issues at the state and local level

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
How advocates can advance immigrant workforce issues at the state and local level

As Welcoming Week (September 14-23) prepares to kick off, with hundreds of events scheduled around the country, National Skills Coalition is releasing a new report that gives state and local advocates fresh ideas for advancing policies to improve immigrant access to workforce and adult education services. At the Intersection of Immigration and Skills Policy: A Roadmap to Smart Policies for State and Local Leaders focuses on the fast-growing phenomenon of state Offices of New Americans and city Offices of Immigrant Affairs, and their intersection with public workforce and education agencies.

The report gives advocates practical examples of how state and local officials have invested in immigrant workers’ skills through programs and policies to date, and offers policy recommendations for how advocates can further advance immigrant workforce issues in their own communities. The report is relevant both for states and localities that have immigrant affairs offices, and those that do not.

Six states and 30 cities now have immigrant affairs offices, while more than 90 communities have launched “welcoming” initiatives, some of which are housed within municipal government. Skills issues are a notable and growing focus for many of these offices, both in response to constituent requests (e.g., for more English classes) and as a result of the overall direction and agenda set by the governor or mayor when establishing the office. Similarly, workforce issues are also on the radar screen for many local welcoming initiatives.

At the Intersection of Immigration and Skills Policy includes select examples of policies advanced by immigrant affairs offices to support the education and workforce goals of state residents, and provides recommendations for those offices to further expand their efforts.

The report also emphasizes the importance of ensuring that state policymakers capitalize on immigrant affairs offices’ expertise as they design and meet overall workforce goals, such as the postsecondary attainment goals that 40 states have established. (National Skills Coalition previously published 10 state-specific fact sheets on the importance of investing in immigrant skill-building to meet the demand for middle-skill workers and help states meet their credential attainment goals. Links to each are available on the immigration page of NSC’s website.)

Among the recommendations included in the At the Intersection report:

  • For established offices of immigrant affairs: 1) designing formal mechanisms for immigrant-affairs offices to participate in workforce and education policy decision making; 2) exploring how non-skills issues can be a gateway to foster connections with other public agencies; 3) capitalizing on the convening power of public agencies; and more.
  • For newly created offices of immigrant affairs: 1) Consider housing the office within a labor, education, or economic development agency; 2) build inclusion of US-born community members in from the beginning; 3) rather than fighting for a programmatic budget, fight for a seat at the table and ability to be a creative policy entrepreneur; and more.
  • For workforce and education agencies: 1) “Cross-fertilize” business leaders’ input on immigration and skills policy goals; 2) incorporate an immigrant lens into state and local workforce data policy; 3) ensure that immigrant-owned businesses are specifically included in education and workforce policy efforts; and more.

View the complete recommendations and an array of examples from Maryland to Michigan and beyond in the full At the Intersection of Immigration and Skills Policy report.

Posted In: Immigration, Adult Basic Education
House Democrats introduce HEA legislation that would extend Pell grants to short-term programs and increase data transparency

On July 24, 2018, House Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member, Bobby Scott (D-VA), along with several House Democrats, announced the roll-out of the Aim Higher Act (H.R. 6543)—a comprehensive bill that would reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) for the first time since 2008 if signed into the law. According to the bill’s sponsors, H.R. 6543 consists of proposals contained in Aim Higher, the House Democratic legislative campaign launched in May 2017, as well as amendments offered by Committee Democrats during the December 2017 markup of the PROSPER Act (H.R. 4508)—a controversial HEA re-write introduced by House Republicans late last year.

Many of the provisions in the Aim Higher Act embody long-standing priorities of House Democrats—including access to free community college, increased Pell grant funding, strict oversight of proprietary institutions, and the expansion of support services for underserved students, including DACA recipients and foster and homeless youth. The bill has a number of provisions that contradict those contained in the PROSPER Act—demonstrating that House Republicans and Democrats have been unable to build consensus around modernizing higher education policy.

Bipartisan progress on HEA has also stalled in the Senate. Despite a series of promising hearings on higher education reform this year, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander announced that his Committee will not produce legislation to reauthorize HEA this Congress. Nonetheless, the Aim Higher Act provides insight into the postsecondary priorities of House Democrats—which helps set the stage for HEA reauthorization debate in the 116th Congress.

Key elements of the Aim Higher Act include:

Extending federal financial aid to short-term programs – The Aim Higher Act contains language from the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act—a comprehensive bill introduced by House and Senate Democrats this Congress; which aims to make a number of changes to the funding and accessibility of Pell grants.

This language would extend Pell grants to academic or job training courses that are at least 150 clock hours of instruction time over a period of at least 8 weeks; so long as the program is part of a career pathway, and results in an industry-recognized credential. Under current law, students are only eligible to receive Pell grants if they are enrolled in a program of study that requires 600 clock hours over a minimum of 15 weeks. This long-standing policy makes federal financial aid inaccessible to students who may be looking to upskill through high-quality, short-term programs—an issue that has been consistently raised by National Skills Coalition (NSC).

The PROSPER Act made similar changes to Pell grant eligibility—however, students would only have access to Pell grants if they were enrolled in a program that was at least 300 clock hours of instruction over a minimum of 10 weeks. Additionally, the PROSPER Act lacks important quality assurance provisions—missing opportunities to engage business and industry leaders in the oversight of short-term programs and set clear guidelines for institutions looking to offer these courses.

NSC has long advocated for students attending short-term programs of high quality to have access to Pell grant programs; a concept that Republicans and Democrats have now both supported in various pieces of legislation, including the bipartisan JOBS Act—introduced by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) last year—the PROSPER ACT, and most recently the Aim Higher Act.

Improving postsecondary data transparency – Due to existing legal restrictions on the collection and dissemination of postsecondary data, students, parents and policymakers do not have a full picture of the quality of higher education programs. Currently, postsecondary institutions are required to report information to the Department of Education through multiple surveys rather than sharing consistent student level data; a practice that is both burdensome and ineffective. Additionally, the federal government only requires colleges to report data on students receiving Title IV financial aid—leaving the public without a clear picture of program outcomes.

The Aim Higher Act addresses this issue by overturning the 2008 student unit record ban and requiring the development of a secure system, housed by the Department of Education, that would evaluate program-level data. This language is similar to that of the College Transparency Act—a bipartisan, bicameral bill led by Senators Hatch (R-UT) and Warren (D-MA) and Representatives Polis (D-CO) and Mitchell (R-MI)—that aims to equip students with the data they need to make informed decisions about their futures. NSC supports the College Transparency Act and is encouraged by the inclusion of similar language in the Aim Higher Act.

The PROSPER Act also took steps to increase the transparency of postsecondary education data by mandating the creation of a college dashboard website. While this public-facing website would include valuable, institution-level information such as student to faculty ratio and the median earnings of students who obtained a certificate or degree both in the 5th and 10th years following their graduation, the student unit record ban would be kept in place—meaning no new data would be captured. While the dashboard acknowledges the importance of data transparency, it leaves students and their families without a complete picture of what to expect from various institutions.

Increasing support services for high-need students – National Skills Coalition has been a vocal advocate for support services for adult and other non-traditional students enrolled in higher education. The majority of postsecondary students today have at least one characteristic of a non-traditional student—which can include working full or part-time while attending school, parenting a dependent child, or entering college for the first time after spending years in the workforce.  These students often have different needs than first-time, full-time college students between the ages of 18-23 who are living on campus while attending classes.

To help aid non-traditional students, the Aim Higher Act establishes a $150 million grant program for states to establish or expand initiatives that help vulnerable populations, such as foster and homeless youth, successfully transition to college. Grantees would also be required to award funding to institutions looking to provide wrap around services to these students, such as housing, childcare, and transportation, once they enroll in college.

NSC supported a similar proposal introduced in the Senate this Congress, known as the Gateway to Careers Act. Led by Senator Hassan (D-NH) this measure would support career pathways for nontraditional students through dedicated federal grant funding. The grants, which would be administered by the U.S Department of Education in consultation with the U.S Department of Labor, would be awarded on a competitive basis to institutions that are working in partnership to serve students experiencing barriers to postsecondary access and completion. Career pathways, which combine access to career counseling, direct support services—such as childcare and transportation—and basic skills instruction, lead students to the skills and credentials they need to persist and succeed in today’s economy.

In addition to this new grant program, the Aim Higher Act increases funding for existing student support programs, including:

  • The Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program (CCAMPIS)
    • The Aim Higher Act would increase funding for CCAMPIS, a program that provides campus-based child care services to low-income parents, from $16 million per year to $67 million (a $51 million increase).
    • The PROSPER Act preserved CCAMPIS but did not provide additional funding for the program. 
    • The Federal TRIO Programs (TRIO)
      • TRIO programs are designed to provide services to individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO includes eight different programs targeted to assist low-income individuals, first generation college students, and individuals with disabilities—so that they can progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to postbaccalaureate programs. The Aim Higher Act increases funding for TRIO programs by $110 million—which would bring total funding to $1.01 billion.
      • The PROSPER Act cut funding levels for TRIO by $50 million.
      • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG)
        • SEOG is a federal assistance grant reserved for college students with the greatest need—roughly 81% of students who receive SEOG come from families earning less than $30,000 per year.
        • The Aim Higher Act phases out the current SEOG allocation formula and replaces it with one that would base the amount of funding on the level of unmet need at an institution as well as the percentage of low-income students they enroll; rather than how long the institution has participated in the program. The Aim Higher Act also creates a pilot program that allows institutions to use up to 5% of their FSEOG funds to provide emergency grants to students.
        • Under the PROSPER Act, SEOG would have been eliminated.
        • Federal Work Study (FWS) program
          • The bill would also replace the current FWS grant allocation formula with the one proposed for SEOG—and would include a “bonus allocation” for institutions that have strong outcomes for serving and graduating Pell recipients. The Aim Higher Act would also double funding for FWS.
          • FWS also received an increase in funding under the PROSPER Act, although the current funding formula would stay in place. PROSPER also aimed to give students participating in FWS more flexibility to work in the private sector during their time in school.
          • Pell Grant Program
            • The Aim Higher Act extends financial aid access to those who have historically been unable to qualify for assistance, including undocumented students who are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) and individuals who were previously or are currently incarcerated.
            • The bill would also increase the maximum Pell award by $500 each year and permanently index the grants for inflation. Additionally, students would be able to access Pell grants for fourteen semesters instead of the current twelve.

Other notable elements of the Aim Higher Act include:

Establishing a federal-state partnership to finance free community college – One of the hallmarks of the Aim Higher Act is the establishment of a federal-state partnership that would cover the cost of community college for students across the United States. States would be able to opt into a partnership with the federal government, through which they would receive federal funding, so long as they committed to providing all students with two years of community college free of cost—and continued to invest in education to reduce the financial burden on students and families.

The concept of free community college dates back to “America’s College Promise”—a plan announced by President Obama in 2015 that would tuition to community college students who maintain a grade-point average of 2.5 or better, and who graduate within two years. Although America’s College Promise was not supported at the federal level while President Obama was in office, a number of states have continued or adopted their own free tuition programs; including Tennessee, Oregon, Rhode Island and California.

Simplification of the federal student loan system – The Aim Higher Act would provide students with two repayment options for their student loans: a fixed repayment plan, or an income-based repayment plan. Borrowers who are more than 120 days delinquent will automatically be enrolled in an income-based repayment plan.

A step toward Competency Based Education (CBE) – The Aim Higher Act green lights a demonstration project that allows participating CBE programs to request flexibility from some regulatory requirements seen as barriers to implementation. In exchange, annual evaluations of CBE programs are required. An institution’s accrediting agency is also required to set standards specific to CBE.

As of today, the Aim Higher Act has not yet been scored by CBO. National Skills Coalition looks forward to continuing to work with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle as move closer to enacting higher education legislation that works for today’s students.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Career and Technical Education, Federal Funding, Higher Education Access
Community college leaders from 10 states endorse fundamentals of NSC’s Community College Compact in letters to Senate HELP Committee

On July 16, 2018, leaders of 10 community college systems across the country—including those in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Virginia—sent letters to Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray, urging them to modernize federal higher education policy to better reflect the needs of today’s community college students. The letters emphasize the importance of adopting a job-driven Community College Compact—a set of policy proposals developed by National Skills Coalition with the input of a range of stakeholders; including academic institutions, employers, community-based organization and workforce development boards.

In today’s economy, 80 percent of all jobs require some form of postsecondary education or training—a reality that has led to an influx of individuals enrolling in the higher education system with a different set of objectives than first-time, full-time students. Community colleges serve approximately 9 million students every year of all ages and backgrounds; most of whom can be classified as non-traditional. These individuals often work full or part time, are parents to dependent children, and/or fall in the age range of 28-40.

Given the significant role they play in preparing students for the workforce, community college leaders took the opportunity to outline their shared priorities and urge federal lawmakers to:

Eliminate the bias against working learners in need of federal financial aid

As our economy continues to change, more skilled workers are needed today than ever before. 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, many community colleges are aiming 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 college leaders urged lawmakers to consider legislation—such as the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 206) led by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH)—that would expand Pell grant eligibility to students enrolled in employer-approved 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 college leaders noted 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 college administrators called for action on the College Transparency Act (S. 1121, H.R. 2434). Introduced by Senators Hatch (R-UT), Warren (D-MA), Cassidy (R-LA) and Whitehouse (D-RI) and Representatives Mitchell (R-MI) and Polis (D-CO), 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 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 college leaders called for the consideration of the Gateway to Careers Act (S. 2407)—legislation introduced by Senator Hassan (D-NH), along with Senators Kaine (D-VA), Shaheen (D-NH) and Reed (D-RI). This 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 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 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 college leaders called on lawmakers to pass legislation that would increase the resources available for these collaboration models —such as the Community College to Career Fund Act (S. 2390). Introduced by Senators Duckworth (D-IL), Smith (D-MN), Kaine (D-VA) and Feinstein (D-CA), this bill would authorize competitive grant funding, allowing academic institutions and businesses to work together to deliver valuable educational or career training programs to students and workers.

The voices of these and other community college leaders across the country are undeniably important, as Congress looks to reauthorize the Higher Education Act for the first time since 2008. While the House and Senate have not passed Higher Education Act legislation this Congress, action is expected early next year. To view the letter, click here.

Posted In: Higher Education Access, Sector Partnerships, Adult Basic Education, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Virginia
Business investment in upskilling for incumbent workers: lessons from a Pre-Lean ESOL Program in Massachusetts

In a tight labor market, companies across the United States are mulling how best to upskill their incumbent workforce to meet business needs. A particular challenge is adults with foundational skills gaps in reading, math, or spoken English. These kinds of skill gaps can prevent workers from even being able to participate in occupational training opportunities that can help them improve their earning prospects and better contribute to the business bottom line.

In Massachusetts, one effort is demonstrating the value of employer-informed training approaches that capitalize on strong public policies and partnerships with experienced training providers.

The Pre-Lean English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program was created by the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) in collaboration with the nonprofit English for New Bostonians (ENB).

Formally known as Principles of Lean Manufacturing for English Language Learners, the program was sparked by the discovery that businesses eager to realize cost savings by training workers in Lean Manufacturing techniques faced a challenge: Workers who were English learners were not able to participate in the training on an even footing with their English-speaking colleagues.

National Skills Coalition spoke with Jim Gusha of MassMEP, Mark Camus of Russelectric, and Franklin Peralta of English for New Bostonians to learn about the program and the policies that facilitate it.

Why was this an important issue for your organizations to tackle?

Jim: Just as context, MassMEP works primarily with small and medium sized manufacturers. We have three different areas of focus: operational excellence, business development and innovation, and workforce development. Often that means moving people from unemployment into a job – helping them build basic skills like math and reading, as well as specific skills like Computer Numeric Control (CNC) operation, metrology, etc. We have strong relationships with local higher education institutions as well as training facilities in our offices.

But now that unemployment level is so low, you’ve got under-employed people. Companies are crying for help. We’re looking to try and bridge that gap, to put together programming to reach those people and get them into the manufacturing workforce, or help them move up in their current roles. This project started off as a way to respond to a need that we were seeing among some of our manufacturers that have high numbers of immigrant workers [who needed to upskill].

Franklin: English for New Bostonians is a nonprofit, but we’re also an activist grantmaking organization that funds 23 programs serving more than 1,100 English learners each year. There is a huge business component to our work, because across Massachusetts, 1 in 5 workers is an immigrant. Many of them are still building their English skills: 439,000 working-age people in our state are English learners.

So businesses are really important partners for us, especially in the manufacturing sector, where a lot of immigrants in our state are employed. We engage with companies through our English Works campaign. We are always trying to think about how to help businesses make the connection between investing in English skills for their employees, and seeing greater productivity and improved safety outcomes.

We don’t just work with individual businesses; we also work with industry associations and groups like MassMEP. So it was natural for us to respond when Jim reached out.

Mark: We are a privately held, family-owned independent company. We have about 325-350 employees in two main facilities – in Massachusetts and Oklahoma. Our products help make sure that companies who can’t afford to lose power, don’t lose power. Like airports, banks, data centers, hospitals. It’s business to business.

It was MassMEP and AIM – Associated Industries of Massachusetts – who came to us initially. They reached out to us regarding a 2-year grant from the Massachusetts Workforce Training Fund Program (WTFP), covering all aspects of Lean manufacturing and related concepts. Based on the composition of our workforce, we identified that ESOL would need to be a component of the training.

What prompted you to think about designing a class specifically for English learners?

Jim: Previously, when MassMEP has done work in areas like Fall River, Lowell, or Boston [that have large immigrant populations] we’ve always had to tap into a [bilingual] person at the company to translate some of the concepts we’re trying to train on. It was cumbersome and I’m not really sure how effective it was. Employers want to have their [English learner] employees involved in training but sometimes they shy away from sending them because they’re not sure the message is getting through.

We were offering this Lean 101 8-hour introductory session. For that training, there was a lot of communication that was necessary: interaction with the instructor, lecture, and so on – and we were just not sure that the message was getting through to the participants who were English learners.

So then we thought about ESOL programming as kind of an on-ramp to the Lean training. In general, ESOL is a time commitment for a company – it can take 6 months to a year for a worker to gain a level in their language skills. While that’s great, it’s also time-consuming if what you want is just for someone to get up to speed enough to be able to understand Lean.

I bounced the idea of a Lean ESOL class off of Franklin and he liked the idea. ENB had a person who they recommended who could help us put it together, and that’s how this whole project got started.

Why were partnerships necessary for Russelectric to engage with this project?

Mark: The partnership with MassMEP is important because we’re a relatively small business.  It’s not practical for us to design and launch entire training programs – that’s just not what we do. We do very much have top-down support for this project, from the CEO and CFO on down. I report directly to the CFO.

In terms of establishing our relationship with English for New Bostonians, I went to the annual awards breakfast that ENB puts on. It was a fantastic event -- very uplifting, inspirational, professionally run. So that made a good impression on me. They had good stories and examples of other companies they’d worked with.

Knowing that we were working with experienced partners helped convince us that this was a good use of company time and resources.

What does the class entail?

Mark: There are about 10 classes, at two hours per class. The classes are held from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., and employees get paid for their time.  The reaction to the class has been quite favorable.

What are the key differences between Pre-Lean ESOL and a regular English class?

Jim: I can’t stress this enough – this is not a replacement for a traditional ESOL program. I don’t want companies to think that. [Rather], it’s a class that makes sense for workers to take before they start their Lean journey. It allows them to conceptually understand the key points of Lean, learn some specialized vocabulary, and participate in the improvement process.

What drives employers to work with you on training?

Jim: Over the years, MassMEP has served thousands of businesses in Massachusetts, of which 80 percent have fewer than 100 employees. These companies aren’t large enough to have [extensive] in-house training resources. MassMEP is an important resource for them because we can look at the training needs across a range of small companies and develop programs that meet their needs.

We’re very fortunate that our state is very supportive of this type of programming. Massachusetts has a fund that is paid for through a tax on unemployment insurance – the Workforce Training Fund. It allows employers to receive grants to support training for incumbent workers, with greater weight given to projects that boost skills and opportunities for lower-skill or low-wage workers. We often work with businesses to design training that can be supported by this fund.

How was this project funded?

Jim: As an organization, we’re set up as a nonprofit, and our funding comes from the US Department of Commerce, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and fee-for-service training programs. For this project, MassMEP funded all of the program development and paid for a curriculum developer to work with ENB.

It took us about a year to develop. It was constantly tweaked. We ran a pilot at a company that was interested in Lean training, but hesitant to begin it, because about 20% of their workforce was not fluent in English. After the ESOL pilot ended, production workers in the pilot class shared valuable feedback with us -- such advising us to use more videos – and were able to successfully move on to the regular Lean training with their native-born co-workers

Franklin: ESOL training for immigrant workers is one of the top priorities for the Workforce Training Fund; that, coupled with the fact that many of these limited English speaking employees are currently in low-skills positions, puts the Pre-Lean ESOL program in total alignment with the mission of the Fund to upskill our state workforce.

How are you measuring success? What’s next for this project?

Mark: At the worker level, it’s primarily observational. We are judging this as part of the overall Lean training. If we see ESOL participants being able to participate on equal footing with their [non-ESOL] coworkers, that’s a good sign.

As part of our broader Lean training activities, we do have some specific outcomes we have to report to the state about operational efficiencies and cost savings and so forth.  We are also considering doing individual performance evaluations.

Jim: Since our initial pilot class, we have implemented the curriculum with two other companies, and it’s going well. We’re confident that we can do it well now – it’s not a pilot any more.

We’ve also gotten the support of the Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and the Commonwealth Corporation, which oversees the Workforce Training Fund, which is really helpful as we think about continuing to expand.

Franklin: In terms of measuring success, the first thing we do is to assess the current ESOL level of each potential student. At Russelectric, this evaluation determined that we needed to organize the employees in two groups, low-intermediate and intermediate. This helped the instructor to adjust the curriculum to better serve the two levels.

We also do a general evaluation at the end of the course. At Russelectric, 31 employees participated in the program, and they gave an average score of 4.6 out of 5 to the question: Can I use this knowledge at my job? The bottom line is, you can see how their newly gained confidence enables them to contribute their own ideas to their company’s Lean process improvement.

What lessons does this project have for other employers?

Mark: I would say that the Pre-Lean ESOL class worked because it was fully incorporated into everything else we were trying to do with Lean training. It wasn’t a stand-alone thing.

Plus, we know our workforce. Demographically, we’re diverse – our workers are Hispanic, Southeast Asian, Cape Verdean, and more. We knew that if the Lean training was going to succeed we had to make sure everyone was prepared to participate.

Thinking about other employers, I would say that if you’re a small business and you don’t have time to develop a whole new training curriculum, reaching out to partners like your state’s MEP and organizations like English for New Bostonians can help. This is what they specialize in, and that leaves us free to do our jobs.

What lessons does this project have for other Manufacturing Extension Partnerships?

Jim: Well, of course, while there are MEPs in all fifty states, their local contexts are different. But in general, I think this project demonstrates how good policies like the Workforce Training Fund can be combined with strong partners who have specialized expertise to help small and mid-sized businesses solve their training issues.

As I said, it’s a tight labor market. Everybody’s trying to find good workers.  Sometimes the worker you need is already on your payroll – they just need a little boost, and training can provide that boost.

What lessons does this project have for adult education and workforce policy advocates?

Franklin: It doesn’t matter which end you start with – whether you are thinking about how to help immigrant workers build their skills, or how to help small businesses find the talent they need. In both cases, you can create a win-win. Partnerships are what make it possible.

And then, once you get a good partnership going, you have to tell the story! Policymakers need to hear about how important education and training investments are, especially for small businesses. Whether it is federal policymakers hearing about why MEPs are important, or state policymakers hearing about incumbent worker training funds, you have to show how their ideas are working in the real world. Everybody likes to hear a success story.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, Massachusetts
Senate Appropriations Committee advances Labor-HHS bill with increased funding for apprenticeship and adult basic education

Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced their Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill. With their vote yesterday, the Senate has now advanced all 12 of their funding bills for FY 2019.

The Senate version of the bill included level funding for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) state formula grants and national programs. It also provided level funding for Workforce Data Quality Initiative Grants. The Senate bill would increase funding for apprenticeships by $15 million, $10 million more than the FY 2019 House bill. The Senate version also maintained a limitation that this funding only applies to registered apprenticeship programs, a limitation excluded from this year’s House bill. Committee report language in both the House and Senate recognize the importance of investing in local, industry driven partnerships as a foundation of apprenticeship expansion. This strategy is consistent with the bipartisan PARTNERS and BUILDS Acts.

The Senate Labor-HHS bill would increase funding for Adult Education and Family Literacy State Grants by $25 million over FY 2018 levels, up to $641,955,000, and level fund Career and Technical Education State Grants. The House bill would level fund adult education, instead providing Career and Technical Education State Grants with an increase of almost $115 million over FY 2018 levels.

The House remains stalled after the Appropriations’ Labor-HHS Subcommittee advanced a partisan bill on party lines two weeks ago, with full committee mark up of the bill having been delayed now twice. For more background, see earlier updates on the FY 2019 appropriations process here and here.




FY 2018 Omnibus

FY 2019 House Labor-HHS Bill

FY 2019 Senate Labor-HHS Bill

Department of Labor

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I – State Formula Grants




WIOA Adult




WIOA Dislocated Worker




WIOA Youth




Wagner-Peyser Employment Service Grants




Workforce Data Quality Initiative Grants




Apprenticeship Grants




DW National Reserve




Native American Programs




Ex-Offender Activities




Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers








Senior Community Service Employment Program




Department of Education

Career and Technical Education State Grants




Adult Education and Family Literacy State Grants





Posted In: Federal Funding, Adult Basic Education, Work Based Learning
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