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In Focus

Oct 22, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

A Coming of Age Story for Career Pathways

By Judy Mortrude and Manuela Ekowo

At the recent National Dialogue on Career Pathways, many federal officials observed that the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) uses the term “career pathways” more than twenty times, signaling a coming of age for this powerful workforce development strategy.

The career pathway approach connects progressive levels of education, training, support services, and credentials for specific occupations in a way that optimizes the progress and success of individuals with varying levels of abilities and needs. This approach can benefit well-prepared students, but it’s especially beneficial for more vulnerable populations.

WIOA provides a comprehensive definition of a career pathway program and signals the move toward career pathway system building. While WIOA heavily features career pathway language, new and existing partnerships may still wonder what exactly is meant by “career pathways.” Moreover, programs and partnerships may need a better understanding of the nuances of career pathways before they’re ready to receive help building systems.

To guide the work ahead, Career Pathways Explained, is brought to you by CLASP and the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways, a partner-driven initiative with 10 leading states that successfully developed a framework identifying criteria and indicators to define quality career pathway systems and metrics to measure and manage success. This visually engaging, web-based tool explains how the career pathway approach helps individuals with limited skills access education and training that leads to employment in occupations and industries that are in high demand. It also provides concrete examples of success in Alliance states. The tool is designed to explain career pathways to people in the field who appreciate this approach but are not steeped in it.

Be sure to check out Career Pathways Explained. We think you’ll find it very useful, and we encourage you to share it with your colleagues.

Oct 9, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

New Study on Postsecondary Outcomes for Returning Adult Students

By Katherine Saunders

On Tuesday, the American Council on Education, InsideTrack, NASPA, UPCEA, and the National Student Clearinghouse released a joint study highlighting the persistence and completion patterns of non-first-time college students, a group about which we know very little because of their absence from major federal postsecondary databases.

Adult students make up a growing portion of today’s undergraduate students. Forty-four percent of undergraduate students are age 25 or older and 51 percent are independent for the purpose of determining eligibility for financial aid. Unlike “traditional” students who attend a four-year institution directly after high school, adults students often exhibit less traditional enrollment patterns, with some having delayed enrollment, others having dropped out or stopped out of college after accumulating credits but not completing a degree, and others mix full- and part-time enrollment while trying to balance work, family, and school.

The new joint study breaks down college completion disparities of returning adult students by institution type and state. Researchers found that just under 34 percent of adult non-first-time (NFT) students completed their degree after 6 to 8 years, compared to 54 percent of first-time students. At public two-year institutions, where a majority of low-income adult returning students enroll, the completion rate for NFT students was 26 percent lower than full-time students.

Additionally, the data reveal that some states are doing a better job graduating returning adult students than other states. For instance, large states like California and Texas have dismal completion rates (24 and 38 percent, respectively) whereas smaller states like Delaware and the District of Columbia have the highest completion rates for NFT students (51 and 57 percent, respectively). It is not clear, however, what strategies lead to better student outcomes between states.

Adult returning students often balance multiple responsibilities such as class work, jobs, and family obligations. Forty-one percent work more than 20 hours per week and 26 percent are parents. To manage these multiple responsibilities, adult students require more flexible schedules and mix part-time and full-time enrollment over the course of their academic program. Despite these challenges, findings from this new study show that returning students with mixed enrollment actually complete at higher rates than their first-time mixed enrollment peers. This supports the continuing need for financial aid and other policies that support mixed enrollment. Although the federal Pell Grant supports part-time attendance, many state-level financial aid programs are limited to students who enroll full-time, limiting the financial resources available to returning adult students.

At a time where policy makers and leaders are working to increase college completion rates for adults, it is imperative for federal and state level grant programs to support part-time enrollment, including when students attend less than half-time. Financial aid should be designed to meet the cost of college and flexible enough to meet the needs of returning adult students. In the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, CLASP recommends that Congress preserve financial aid for students who attend a mix of part and full-time enrollment while in school in order to support the Nation’s college completion goals and help more low-income, working adult students earn postsecondary credentials to advance in the workforce.

This study brings to the forefront concerns with how effectively our postsecondary institutions are addressing the needs of the growing population of returning adult students. While financial aid is critical, it is only part of the solution. Innovations such as connecting students to public benefits, developing career pathways to good jobs, and instituting competency-based approaches should be more commonly  implemented at scale to support returning adult students. Employer demand for workers with some postsecondary education is expected to remain high; by 2020, nearly 65 percent of jobs will require some postsecondary education. We must ensure we’re doing everything we can to advance college completion goals and help more low-income, working adult students earn postsecondary credentials to advance in the workforce.

Oct 2, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

OCTAE Provides a “One-Stop” Shop for Career Pathways Resources

By Manuela Ekowo

The career pathways movement continues to gain steam, thanks to the enactment of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and several other efforts highlighted in the U.S Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services’ recent National Dialogue on Career Pathways. States are looking for ways to best implement the new law, strengthen career pathways, and build career pathway systems to meet the needs of their communities and local economies.

As the career pathway approach starts to become codified in federal law, it is important to have a common understanding of quality career pathways and systems, such as the shared vision proposed by the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways (AQCP). In addition, practitioners, policymakers, administrators, funders, and others can benefit from the numerous valuable resources that have been created to help them develop career pathways. The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) in the U.S. Department of Education launched a new initiative earlier this year to do just that.

OCTAE’s Moving Pathways Forward: Supporting Career Pathways Integration will assist states in advancing career pathways systems to transition low-skilled adults to postsecondary education and employment. In October, this initiative will launch the Career Pathways Exchange, which will consolidate and distribute career pathways-related tools, events, and information from federal and state agencies and partner organizations. CLASP will contribute to the Career Pathways Exchange by sharing our relevant resources with new audiences through the Exchange’s network.

Members of the Exchange can select to receive updates on topics of interest which include: building cross-agency partnerships; identifying industry sectors and engaging employers; designing education and training programs; identifying funding needs and sources; aligning policies and programs; and measuring system change and performance. We encourage those working to strengthen and improve career pathways and systems and looking for a central hub of resources for this work to join the Exchange.   

The Alliance framework, Shared Vision, Strong Systems, jointly developed by CLASP and ten leading career pathway states and their local/regional partners, is one of many resources featured in the Exchange. The framework provides a clear set of criteria and indicators for what constitutes a quality state and local/regional career pathway system as well as metrics to assess participant progress and success, all of which mirror the Exchange’s key interest topics listed above. Phase II of the Alliance, which launched this Fall, will focus on implementing the framework and sharing lessons with the field.

We believe the Exchange will be a useful tool for states and local programs as it will streamline information across multiple outlets, providing members with ongoing updates on available resources and upcoming events to facilitate a deeper national dialogue on career pathways systems development and implementation. In addition, resources and information distributed through the Exchange are vetted and released based on their relevance to members, ensuring the offerings are tailored to the task at hand: to provide relevant education and training to disadvantaged populations, youth and adults alike, that will enable them to be successful in today’s economy.

For more information about CLASP’s participation in this nationwide federal initiative, please contact CLASP’s AQCP staff and sign up for updates on the Alliance. In addition, we encourage you to follow the Exchange on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to stay current on career pathways events and resources, as well as adult education and WIOA updates.

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