In Focus

Sep 2, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

SNAP Employment and Training Pilots an Opportunity for Innovative Strategies

By Helly Lee

Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture’s(USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) posted their Request for Application (RFA) for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) Pilots. Passed earlier this year, the 2014 Farm Bill reauthorization includes $200 million for the creation and evaluation of three-year pilot projects testing innovative SNAP E&T strategies in up to 10 states. Approximately $165 million will be awarded to the pilot projects, with grants ranging between $5 million and $25 million.

The RFA solicits applications from any of the 53 State agencies (including the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands) that administer SNAP and are interested in competing for funding. State agencies may apply on behalf of one or more county-administered SNAP agencies; they may also submit multiple applications that propose different project ideas.

The pilots are intended to build upon and enhance existing SNAP E&T activities. States must commit to at least the same level of funding for their SNAP E&T program as they did in Fiscal Year 2013 for each year of the pilot. States must also commit to cooperating with an evaluation, which will be conducted by a contractor selected through a separate request for proposals.  As CLASP has strongly advocated, the RFA also requires that states collaborate with workforce and other job training programs in the state and local area.

State SNAP agencies have until September 26,, 2014 to submit a letter of intent to apply for the pilots. The final application must be submitted by November 24, 2014. FNS will announce grantees by February 23, 2015, and the winners will be expected to have programs operational by October 2015

These pilots will allow states to develop and highlight innovative SNAP E&T models that help SNAP participants secure good jobs that reduce their need for benefits. Since the Farm Bill’s passage, CLASP has been encouraging interested states and advocates to consider promising strategies they may want to pilot and lay the groundwork for potential partnerships among state workforce agencies, community colleges, and local community-based organizations. We have also highlighted innovative strategies that are already being implemented in Washington and Minnesota.

To learn more, read CLASP’s updated brief. We will continue to engage stakeholders to support innovative partnerships between SNAP and workforce programs.  We must make the most of this unique opportunity to help eligible SNAP participants get jobs and increase their earnings.

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.

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