In Focus

Aug 18, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

HPOG’s Year Three Annual Report Highlights Success Preparing Low-Income Individuals for Health Professions

By Manuela Ekowo

The career pathway approach, heavily endorsed in the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) passed by Congress and signed by President Obama last month, is a promising way to help low-income, lower-skilled workers access employment and training opportunities. The Health Profession Opportunity Grants’ (HPOG) health care career pathway programs strongly demonstrate how career pathways help low-income individuals gain postsecondary credentials necessary for health-related employment.

HPOG was established in 2010 by the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) to fund training in high-demand health care professions and target Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients and other low-income individuals. HPOG’s recently released Year Three Annual Report highlights the success to date of HPOG career pathway programs in educating and training low-income, lower-skilled adults for health professions. This descriptive report of HPOG participants lays the groundwork for future reports that will analyze the impact of the programs.

So far, the programs have enrolled over 24,000 participants among the 32 HPOG grantees across 23 states. Almost half of participants entering the programs reported a household income of $9,999 or less, and 60 percent had no prior college experience. More than half were receiving food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at entry.

The report notes success in enrolling participants in health care training courses that would lead to eventual employment in health care. Authors reported that 90 percent of participants engaged in pre-training activities, including orientations to health care careers and basic skills education and prerequisite courses, and 81 percent of enrollees participated in a health care training course. At the end of Year Three, 60 percent of participants had completed the course.  Additionally, over half of participants engaged in employment development activities, such as job readiness workshops and work experience.

Support services are a critical element of career pathways; they help ensure success by removing barriers that may make an individual unable to complete the course or pathway program. HPOG programs provide unusually rich support services, including: case management; counseling; financial assistance with tuition, books, and fees; assistance with transportation or child care; housing support; social and family support; and cultural programming. Almost all HPOG participants received one or more of these support services.

The success of HPOG programs (and career pathways more broadly) is ultimately determined by their ability to train individuals to enter and advance in high-demand professions and help fill in-demand jobs with qualified workers. According to the report, at program exit, two-thirds of those who completed a health care training course were employed and 56 percent (more than half) were employed in health care. The positions most commonly obtained were nursing assistant, aide, orderly, attendant, home health aide, licensed practical nurse (LPN), and licensed vocational nurse (LVN). At the end of Year Three, more than half (57 percent) of participants remained in the HPOG program, preparing for or participating in training or accessing post-training services. These included the majority of those who enrolled in longer-term training programs, such as those leading to registered nurse (RN) degrees.

CLASP has played a leadership role on career pathways as an effective way to equip low-income, lower-skilled individuals with the education and skills necessary to obtain postsecondary credentials and stable employment. Since 2012, we have facilitated the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways, which recently released Shared Vision, Strong Systems: The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways Framework Version 1.0. Funded by the Joyce Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, and Greater Twin Cities United Way, the Alliance is an initiative working with leading career pathway states to develop a framework of criteria and indicators that define quality career pathway systems, as well as a set of shared performance metrics for measuring and managing their success. The Alliance framework outlines three features and four functions of quality career pathways, such as well-connected and transparent education, training, credentials, and support services. HPOG has embraced and attributed the success of its programs to many of these features and functions. CLASP continues to inform the national conversation on career pathways and provide leadership in building a shared vision and knowledge base for career pathways through the Alliance’s work.

ACF’s Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) is currently researching and evaluating the success of HPOG; its findings will be published in the near future. However, states are already seeing education and training successes for career pathway participants, especially for individuals who would not be able to access education and family-supporting wages without them. HPOG’s Year Three Annual Report adds to the growing body of evidence that career pathways effectively train workers to be successful in today’s economy.

Aug 4, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Federal Competency-Based Education Experiments Can Help Low-Income Students Obtain Valuable Postsecondary Credentials

By Evelyn Ganzglass

On July 31, the U.S. Department of Education, using its Experimental Sites authority under the Higher Education Act, issued an invitation to postsecondary institutions to participate in experiments designed to test three competency-based approaches to improve student outcomes under federal financial aid. Though they are open to all students, these experiments have the potential to improve postsecondary success and college affordability for the growing number of “non-traditional” students. CBE makes it easier for students with work and family responsibilities to learn on their own time and in a place of their choosing. Non-traditional students also often bring with them considerable work and life experiences (or “competencies”) that may give them a head start in a degree or certificate program. Giving “credit” to students for these skills (using a competency-based approach) can save them valuable money and time. The three competency-based approaches being tested include Prior Learning Assessment, Competency-Based Education, and Limited Direct Assessment. They have the potential to increase postsecondary attainment and college affordability among low-income students in the following ways:

  • Prior Learning Assessment (PLA): This experiment can accelerate time to credential for working students, returning veterans and others by making it easier to gain credit for knowledge and skills learned prior to enrollment. The experiment will allow the costs incurred for the assessment of prior learning to be considered part of a student’s “cost of attendance” calculation. The experiment also allows student’s time and effort spent on preparing materials for the PLA to count toward the student’s Pell grant enrollment status.  See examples of state and institutional policies and practices related to PLA in Giving Credit Where Credit is Due and Scaling Stackable Credentials, Implications for Implementation and Policy.
  • Competency-Based Education (CBE): This experiment will provide waivers to remove some of the time-based restrictions on the disbursement of Title IV aid so that funds are available to pay institutional charges as a student progresses through a self-paced, competency-based education program at his or her own pace. The experiment will allow disbursement of  the “direct costs” of attendance (i.e., tuition, fees, books and supplies) as a student completes the program’s required number of competencies and the “indirect costs” of attendance (i.e., living expenses) at regular intervals related to completion of a certain number of weeks of instructional time. Institutions will be required to develop clock or credit hour equivalencies for the competencies required in each program. Institutions will be able to evaluate a student’s “satisfactory academic progress” based on a determination of whether the student has completed sufficient competencies to complete the program within the maximum allowable timeframe under Title IV (i.e., 150 percent of the program’s published length).  
  • Limited Direct Assessment: This experiment, which can be combined with the others, provides flexibility for an institution to provide an instructional program under Title IV that combines “direct assessment” of student learning with credit or clock hour coursework in the same program. Currently, to be eligible for Title IV, a program must use either direct assessment or a  more traditional coursework approach. Importantly for under-prepared students, prohibitions against the use of Title IV aid for remedial coursework offered by direct assessment may be waived.

In this announcement, the U.S. Department of Education also invites proposals for an experiment that provides the flexibility to compensate federal work study students, who are employed as “near-peer” counselors, to high school students, especially those who are at risk and underrepresented, using solely federal funds (waiving the match requirement). 

Institutions have 60 calendar days to apply to participate in one of the experiments and, if selected, covered programs will be waived from selected federal financial aid rules discussed in the Federal Register notice. See the Experimental Sites Initiative website for more information.

CLASP applauds the Department for making these opportunities available and encourages institutions to take advantage of this opportunity to increase college success and affordability among the growing number of working, adult students.

Jul 22, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Becomes Law; CLASP Looks toward Implementation

By Marcie Foster, Kisha Bird and Evelyn Ganzglass

On Tuesday, July 22, President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), enacted by large bipartisan majorities in both the House and the Senate, after 11 years of debate to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.The White House is also releasing its Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity plan to expand pathways to the middle class. The plan includes expanding many effective strategies CLASP has promoted that better prepare disadvantaged adults and youth to be successful in the workplace.

At a time of sustained unemployment in many communities, the programs in WIOA are designed to help young people and adult workers prepare for work or further education, find jobs, and build the skills employers need. We applaud Congress for acting with near unanimity in taking this important step to create a workforce development system that better enables states and communities to connect low-income youth and adults to employment and training opportunities that lead to economic prosperity for themselves and their families. And we thank President Obama for moving so quickly to enact this law.

Key themes in the bill include:

  • An emphasis on the alignment of all core programs authorized in the bill, including a requirement for unified planning and reporting on a shared set of performance measures across these programs. These steps offer the potential for streamlining and significantly improving service delivery to participants, particularly low-income, low-skilled individuals.
  • A heightened focus on providing training and helping participants prepare for postsecondary education to improve their success in the labor market.
  • Greater focus on and new vehicles for addressing the needs of youth and adults who have significant barriers to employment.
  • Strong support for implementation of innovative adult education models such as integrated education and training, career pathways and sector strategies.
  • A recognition—through  the incorporation of measureable skill gains as an interim indicator of progress and required use of a performance adjustment model—that some workers will need more intensive assistance and additional time in the core programs.

CLASP will be releasing a detailed analysis of WIOA’s implications for low-income and low-skilled youth and adults in the coming weeks. We anticipate working closely with leaders and advocates in states and local communities over the coming year to support the implementation and expansion of workforce systems, policies, and practices that are grounded in research and experience, while also improving the education and employability of low-income people.  In addition, we will work to ensure that newly designed regulations fully implement the bill’s focus on serving America’s most vulnerable workers.

Specifically, we will work collectively to ensure that, through implementation:

  • States and localities leverage the unified planning requirement to partner with key education and human service systems to better address the needs of individuals with barriers to employment. 
  • Performance metrics will improve services to those with barriers rather than be a disincentive.
  • Effective employment and education strategies, such as integrated education, career pathways, and transitional jobs are implemented at scale.
  • Low-income individuals and out-of-school youth are a priority for the provision of services, as intended in the legislation.
  • The provision of youth services maximizes opportunities to better serve older youth ages 16 to 24 across Title I and Title II.

While the passage of WIOA is an historical and significant event, a key next step will be to increase the capacity of the workforce development and adult education systems to achieve the goals of WIOA. Congress should strengthen its commitment to the nation’s workers by providing adequate resources to ensure that improved services reach those who need them. Although modest increases in funding for core programs are authorized in the bill, programs suffered such damaging recent cuts that the FY2017 authorized funding levels in the bill would only restore funding to FY2010 levels. For workforce development programs to have a substantial impact on the country’s unemployed and low-skilled workers, Congress must take steps to eliminate sequestration and the budget caps, both of which are dampening the economic recovery.

Leading up to WIOA’s implementation date of July 2015, the Departments of Education and Labor will be developing regulations and guidance for states and local communities on how to implement the new law. CLASP commends Congress and the Congressional staffers who worked on this important bill and we look forward to working with federal officials, states and local communities to strengthen existing programs and take advantage of the opportunities set forth in the bill to better serve low-income and low-skilled workers. 

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