Continuing the Push for a 21st Century Workforce in 2017

Picture1

From the early days of his campaign to last week’s inaugural address, President Trump has consistently emphasized free trade agreements and immigration as the main threats to economic prosperity in the U.S. Consequently, his administration intends to “follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American,” the president said during his Inaugural address on Friday.

Yet at a time when automation and digitalization are drastically transforming numerous industries—including manufacturing—attempting to bring back jobs from overseas is likely no longer enough; it is critical to also help more Americans acquire the education and skills needed to succeed in a rapidly changing marketplace. By 2020, nearly two thirds of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education, but only 45 percent of Americans earn a degree or credential beyond high school today.

So far, President Trump has revealed relatively little about his plans for higher education policy. However, we may see the public and private sector driving significant efforts to prepare more Americans for 21st century jobs this year.

Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act

The Carl D. Perkins Act is the main piece of federal legislation governing career and technical education (CTE). Last year, the House of Representatives voted 405 to five to reauthorize the Perkins Act for the first time since 2006. The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act was designed to make it easier for schools to apply for federal CTE funding, give states greater discretion over the use of such funds and create a federal grant program for innovative CTE programs that align closely with workforce needs, among other provisions. The bill ultimately stalled in the Senate, but it may be revived this year. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, who joined the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) in the 115th Congress, is a longtime advocate for career and technical education, and Republican Senator Tim Scott brought up CTE during the confirmation hearing of Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee for education secretary. So, there may be bipartisan support for a Perkins reauthorization in 2017.

Higher Education Act

 Another major piece of federal education legislation that is up for reauthorization is the Higher Education Act. Senator Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the HELP Committee, has repeatedly expressed interest in tackling this bill. Both Alexander and Senator Patty Murray, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said in an interview in early 2016 that making college more affordable should be a key component of the reauthorization. However, there are other issues, such as regulating for-profit colleges, on which Democrats and Republicans hold opposing views that may be difficult to reconcile. And the committee will, of course, play a major role in any effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which could take priority during President Trump’s first year in office.

Free Community College

 While President Obama’s proposal to make two years of community college tuition-free for all Americans ultimately didn’t advance in Congress, the idea has caught on in states and municipalities across the country over the past few years. As the College Promise Campaign reported last October, there are now more than 150 programs across 37 states that offer some form of tuition-free community college. This trend may be further accelerated by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to eliminate tuition at state and city universities for students whose families earn $125,000 or less a year—provided the state legislature in Albany approves the plan.

Private Sector Initiatives

 Similar to state and local governments, American corporations have also taken action in recent years to ensure they have access to a skilled workforce in the future. As my colleagues Beth Parker and Jessica Abensour outlined in a piece last year, these initiatives range in scope from online courses at AT&T (VOX client) to Starbucks’ partnership with Arizona State University, which enables employees to earn a bachelor’s degree with support from the company. Private sector players are also working closely with nonprofit organizations and government agencies to advance postsecondary education and job training. Just this month, JPMorgan Chase and the Council of Chief State School Officers announced that the bank will be dispersing $2 million each to 10 states over the next three years to expand and improve pathways to well-paying jobs for all high school students. We should expect to see more corporate training programs and public-private partnerships launched or expanded in 2017.

While much remains unknown about President Trump’s plans for higher education and job training, it’s clear there will be momentum based on actions by Congress, state and local governments, and the private sector. Given the critical nature of this issue, it’s important that they don’t wait around.

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Continuing the Push for a 21st Century Workforce in 2017

Picture1

From the early days of his campaign to last week’s inaugural address, President Trump has consistently emphasized free trade agreements and immigration as the main threats to economic prosperity in the U.S. Consequently, his administration intends to “follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American,” the president said during his Inaugural address on Friday.
Yet at a time when automation and digitalization are drastically transforming numerous industries—including manufacturing—attempting to bring back jobs from overseas is likely no longer enough; it is critical to also help more Americans acquire the education and skills needed to succeed in a rapidly changing marketplace. By 2020, nearly two thirds of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education, but only 45 percent of …

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