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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 28, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

House Package of Higher Education Bills Tackles Critical Issues; More Work Needed to Improve Access and Success for Low-Income Students

By Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, Tim Harmon, Evelyn Ganzglass, and Elizabeth Lower-Basch

Last week, the House passed four bipartisan higher education bills critical to low-income, non-traditional students. Unlike the Senate, the House Education and Workforce Committee is taking a piecemeal approach to reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, and these bills are part of that plan. The bills address a number of CLASP’s higher education objectives—such as increasing data transparency for students, better targeting of education tax credits to low-income students, and providing greater means for students pursuing competency-based education—but do have shortcomings, particularly for the growing proportion of non-traditional undergraduate students.

H.R. 4983 – Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act, passed on Wednesday, would “provide students and families with the information they need to make smart decisions about higher education,” according to Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training Chairwoman Virginia Foxx. The legislation creates a consumer-tested College Dashboard website that would replace existing Department of Education consumer websites, including the College Scorecard and College Navigator.  The legislation would include two major improvements in currently available consumer information for postsecondary students. First, graduation rates would be publicly reported (not simply disclosed as under current law) for Pell Grant recipients, subsidized Stafford loan borrowers, and students not receiving any federal aid.  Second, the graduation rate data would be provided for non-first-time students, in addition to first-time students, as is currently reported in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System IPEDS

In spite of these improvements, a critical shortcoming of the legislation is its approach to post-graduation employment and earnings results.  The bill contains only a requirement to include a link to “national and regional data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on starting salaries in all major occupations.”  While national and regional salary survey data can be an important part of the context for interpreting post-graduation earnings results, these data alone are hardly a substitute for institution and program-level employment and earnings results for actual graduates.

The Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success at CLASP recently published a working paper on the importance of employment outcome data in improving the transparency of postsecondary education and training. A key finding of this report is that consumers want to know about the post-graduation employment and earnings for recent alumni of postsecondary institutions, because increasing their prospects for stable employment and improved earnings are central to their motivation to enroll in postsecondary instruction.  Leaving students, parents, and the public in the dark about these results would be a big setback for the cause of improved transparency and consumer awareness. 

H.R. 3136 – The Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act, also passed last week, directs the Secretary of Education to implement demonstration projects to explore ways of delivering education and disbursing student financial aid that are based on learning rather than time. The Act authorizes the Secretary to waive statutory and regulatory requirements related to a minimum number of hours of instruction and other restrictions that impede creation of competency-based programs and to conduct an annual evaluation of the demonstration programs.  This legislation is consistent with CLASP's call for a national conversation about moving to a competency-based education, training and credentialing system. 

The House also passed H.R. 4984 – The Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act,  which requires students participating in federal loan programs to receive counseling each year at the beginning or prior to accepting the student loan and when they exit their program. In addition, it adds to the information that must be provided to students as part of loan counseling. It also requires institutions of higher education to provide financial counseling to Pell Grant recipients.

Finally, H.R. 3393  The Student and Family Tax Simplification Act, which was passed on Thursday, would consolidate four existing education tax credits, including the Hope Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), and the tuition and fees deduction, into one permanent AOTC. When this bill was introduced last fall by Reps. Diane Black (R-TN) and Danny Davis (D-IL), CLASP along with our partners in the Higher Education Tax Reform Consortium had applauded it as an important step forward in simplifying the multiple tax benefits that support higher education and in making these credits more useful to low-income students.  H.R. 3393 would make permanent the partially refundable AOTC and would increase the portion of the credit that is refundable. In addition, it would improve coordination between Pell grants and the AOTC and would ensure that Pell grants are never counted as taxable income. Under the original bill, the costs of the expanded refundability would have been offset by lowering the income eligibility limits for the AOTC and by eliminating the Lifetime Learning Credit. When the bill was brought to the House Ways and Means Committee in June, Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) amended it to restore the current income limits, which would keep the credit available to higher-income families and increase the cost of the bill by $60 billion over 10 years. The Ways and Means Committee also approved a series of costly bills that would make permanent corporate tax preferences. CLASP has deep concerns about this piecemeal approach, which will make it harder for Congress to eventually come to agreement on a balanced package that includes tax reform and sequester replacement. Moreover, to the extent that new funds are available for higher education, we would prefer as much as possible of these funds to be provided through Pell Grants, rather than tax credits. For more information about this bill, see CLASP’s “Education Tax Credits Bill Takes a Partisan Turn on Way to House Floor.”

CLASP looks forward to working with Congressional staff to improve upon the bills as part of a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

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