In Focus

Aug 27, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Ahead of the Curve: Health Care Career Pathway Programs Meet Their Goal a Year Early

By Manuela Ekowo

The career pathway approach, prominently articulated in the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) and utilized in the Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) program, continues to show promise as a way to help low-income, lower-skilled workers access education and training that lead to stable employment. New data on HPOG’s career pathways, which focus on health-related employment, reveal high rates of persistence, completion, and job attainment.

Since 2010, HPOG programs have provided education and training services to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients and other low-income individuals to prepare them for high-demand health care professions. HPOG’s Year Four Annual Report notes a steady yearly increase in the number of enrollees completing at least one health care training course. This descriptive report of HPOG participants lays the groundwork for future reports that will analyze more fully the impact of the programs and program features on participant outcomes.

According to cumulative data, HPOG has already enrolled over 32,000 participants across 23 states—exceeding its 5-year target of 30,000. About half (15) of the participating states have already met their individual 5-year targets, while 10 states have enrolled over 80 percent of their target. Many of the individuals who enroll in HPOG career pathways face severe economic challenges and almost two-thirds identified as a person of color. Almost half of participants reported a household income of $9,999 or less, and more than half were receiving food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Additionally, close to 60 percent had no prior college experience. While TANF recipients are an HPOG target recruitment population, they have made up just 16 percent of total enrollees to date.

These economic barriers make support services critical, especially for the 64 percent of participants with one or more children. HPOG’s unusually rich supports include: 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.

Data show that this investment is paying off with deeper engagement and higher completion rates. According to the report, 90 percent of participants engaged in pre-training activities, including orientations to health care careers, basic skills education, and prerequisite courses. Eighty-two percent of enrollees participated in a health care training course, with 65 percent completing the course by the end of year four. Further, over 75 percent of participants engaged in employment assistance.

At program exit, close to three-quarters of those who completed a health care training course were employed; of those employed, 62 percent had jobs in health care. The positions most commonly obtained were nursing assistant, aide, orderly, attendant, medical records & health information technician, and licensed practical and vocational nurses. More than half (54 percent) of all participants ever enrolled in HPOG were still active during year four— preparing for or participating in training or accessing post-training services. This high retention rate strongly demonstrates the effectiveness of career pathways that integrate education, training, and supports.

CLASP has been a leading proponent of career pathways. Since 2012, we have facilitated the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways, which released last summer Shared Vision, Strong Systems: The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways Framework Version 1.0 The framework includes 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 features and functions of quality career pathways, such as well-connected and transparent education, training, credentials, and support services. HPOG’s success is a result of embracing this approach. CLASP continues to inform the national conversation on career pathways and provide leadership in building a shared vision and knowledge base, especially as it relates to implementing WIOA.

The Administration for Children & Families’ Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation 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 success for career pathway participants, and many more will be ramping up their efforts to implement career pathways in accordance with WIOA. HPOG’s Year Four Annual Report adds to the growing body of evidence that career pathways effectively train workers to succeed in today’s economy.

Aug 14, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Reform the HEA to Address the Unmet Needs of Low-Income and Non-Traditional Students

By Lauren Walizer

While the stereotype of college students being fresh out of high school and dependent on their parents is certainly true for some, the balance has tipped to the point where the majority of postsecondary students today are independent and perhaps have spent time working or raising a family between high school and their attendance in college. This is one of the most critical reasons why the Higher Education Act (HEA), which was last reauthorized in 2008, needs to be updated. In recognition of the many ways that HEA could be improved to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student body, CLASP has updated our policy priorities for reforming the HEA. These policy recommendations reflect our goal of boldly improving federal higher education policy to educate and prepare students for economic success, and preparing lower-income individuals for a rapidly shifting labor market. The reauthorization of the HEA offers a significant opportunity to:

  • make financial aid responsive to today’s students by addressing the needs and attendance patterns of non-traditional and low-income students;
  • transform education delivery to support student success by connecting student financial aid with other programs, benefits, and sources of student assistance, establishing robust career pathways, and better integrating competency-based education; and
  • leverage outcome information to support better decision making through data collections that reflect the current student population and measure their success in finding employment.

Fifty-one percent of today’s undergraduates are independent, 40 percent are adults age 25 or older, 27 percent work full-time, and 26 percent are parents. These students bring life experience, which enhances their educational experience and, at some institutions, contributes to higher completion rates as compared to their younger peers. However, the temporal and logistical constraints facing these students require access to more flexible schedules and methods of delivering education to accommodate their many responsibilities. Students also need better information to help them make good educational decisions, as these choices carry more consequence when combined with balancing work and/or family.

Today’s postsecondary students not only contend with the current offering of programs and information not meeting their needs, but they have unmet financial need as well. On average, a community college student is estimated to incur $16,325 in education-related expenses annually, with only $3,347 of that comprising tuition and fees. The remaining costs include those for transportation, books, supplies, food, and housing, for which grant aid often – and for low-income students in particular, virtually always – is insufficient to cover. In 2000, the lowest-income students had an average of $5,985 annually in unmet need; in 2012 that figure had nearly doubled to $10,061.

In general, it is clear that student needs are often not met by what many traditional colleges currently offer. CLASP’s recommendations for improvements to the HEA will shift federal policy to better support low-income and non-traditional students.  As postsecondary credentials are increasingly necessary to secure good jobs and advance economically, reforms to the HEA are essential to help all individuals obtain the higher education and skills they need to enter and advance in the workforce.

Aug 13, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

WIOA State Plans: Proposed Requirements and Opportunities for Action

By Judy Mortrude and Anna Cielinski

Last week, as part of implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Labor (DOL), together with three other federal agencies, released a formal Information Collection Request that contains proposed required elements of states’ mandatory Unified Plans or optional Combined Plans. Comments will be accepted at regulations.gov until October 5, 2015.

An ICR is primarily intended to collect comments on the potential benefits and burdens of complying with federal collection of information. However, this ICR is notable because it offers an early look at  the elements states will have to include in their WIOA state plans, in advance of the Departments' expected operational guidance on planning.

Under Unified Plans, states are required to explain how they will implement WIOA’s six core programs: Title I Adult, Title I Youth, Title I Dislocated Worker, Title II Adult Education and Family Literacy, Title III Wagner-Peyser, and Title IV Vocational Rehabilitation. States can choose to expand the list of programs in the plan—creating a Combined Plan—by adding any of the optional 11 combined planning partners.*

State plans will be strategic—analyzing economic conditions, workforce characteristics, and workforce development goals—and operational, including descriptions of state operating systems and policies. Data alignment and integration will require developing a common intake process and the ability to track participation across all programs in the plan.

According to the ICR, the state planning process should yield “more comprehensive and integrated [education and training] approaches, such as career pathways and sector strategies, for addressing the needs of businesses and workers.” To accomplish that, states will need to build strong relationships across all of the core WIOA programs and any of the optional combined planning partners. 

The ICR also identifies priority of service requirements. State plans must go beyond strategies for the general population; they must expressly define coordination of services for individuals with barriers to employment, veterans, unemployed workers, and youth. There are also program-specific requirements. For instance, Title I Adult programs must provide priority of service “to individuals who are low income, public benefit recipients, or basic skills deficient,” while Title II programs must prioritize incarcerated populations likely to re-enter society within 5 years of program participation.

Plans will also include assurances that the state had “input into the development” and “provided an opportunity to comment” to a wide range of stakeholders, including the general public.

State plans are due to the federal agencies on March 3, 2016. In the coming weeks, CLASP will be releasing “Opportunities for Action,” a series of short topical memos with recommendations for WIOA state plans, local plans, policies and guidance, and budget choices that can realize the promise of WIOA for helping low-income youth and adults succeed economically. Do not miss this important opportunity to shape critical workforce development services in your region.


Career and technical education programs authorized under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (20 U.S.C. 2301 et seq.);Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (42 U.S.C. 601 et seq.); Employment and Training Programs under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Programs authorized under section 6(d)(4) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. 2015(d)(4))); Work programs authorized under section 6(o) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. 2015(o)); Trade Adjustment Assistance for Workers Programs (Activities authorized under chapter 2 of title II of the Trade Act of 1974 (19 U.S.C. 2271 et seq.)); Jobs for Veterans State Grants Program (Programs authorized under 38, U.S.C. 4100 et. seq.); Unemployment Insurance Programs (Programs authorized under State unemployment compensation laws in accordance with applicable Federal law); Senior Community Service Employment Program (Programs authorized under title V of the Older Americans Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 3056 et seq.)); Employment and training activities carried out by the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Community Services Block Grant (Employment and training activities carried out under the Community Services Block Grant Act (42 U.S.C. 9901 et seq.)); Reintegration of Ex-Offenders Program (Programs authorized under section 212 of the Second Chance Act of 2007 (42 U.S.C. 17532)).

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