In an economy where more than 80 percent of all jobs require some form of postsecondary education or training, expanding access to high quality workforce programs at community and technical colleges is increasingly critical to our nation’s economic competitiveness. However, our current federal higher education policy doesn’t do enough to support the needs of working adults and other non-traditional students who need postsecondary skills and credentials to get and keep family-supporting jobs. In a new issue brief released today, National Skills Coalition proposes a new $500 million Career Pathways Support Fund that would allow community and technical colleges to provide critical academic, counseling and support services that help low-income and other non-traditional students succeed in job-driven education programs.
Today’s college students are increasingly diverse: more than 70 percent of all undergraduates are classified as “non-traditional,” and roughly 40 percent of college students are over the age of 25. Many of these students are balancing school attendance with work and family obligations: at community colleges, 22 percent of full-time students and 41 percent of part-time students are also working full-time, and 30 percent of community colleges are parents. These changing demographics mean that we need to be rethinking the kinds of supports that postsecondary institutions offer to better align with the realities of working adults, including strategies to accelerate time to completion, career counseling, and wraparound services like child care and transportation assistance to help students.
Our new issue brief highlights examples of three states that are tackling these issues head-on, including the Career Pathways Initiative in Arkansas, the Pathways for Academic Career and Employment (PACE) program in Iowa, and the Basic Skills Plus program in North Carolina. The paper also provides an overview of current federal efforts to support parents and other adult students, which have not kept up with the growing demands of today’s college enrollees.
With Congress looking to begin discussions around reauthorization of the Higher Education Act this fall, NSC calls for lawmakers to consider creating a new dedicated fund that supports community and technical colleges who are providing career pathways programs aimed at working adults and other non-traditional students. This new Career Pathways Support Fund – which is part of NSC’s broader Community College Compact proposal outlined in our Skills for Good Jobs Agenda - would encourage qualifying institutions to partner with employers, adult and secondary education providers, and other stakeholders to ensure that participants are able to obtain industry-recognized credentials while also receiving necessary support services. We also urge Congress to pair the new Career Pathways Support Fund with increased investments in financial aid for working students, consistent with the bipartisan JOBS Act, and strengthen support for partnerships between community colleges and local and regional industries.