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Nov 30, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Better Data, Better College Workforce Programs

By Lauren Walizer

The third paper in CLASP’s Building Skills, Remodeling the HEA series, Better Data, Better College Workforce Programs, takes a look at how data practices can be improved to promote success in workforce training initiatives. Informed by our discussions with community colleges, evaluators, and federal officials, we identified two potential areas of inquiry: efforts to build employer and institutional connections to reach low-skilled individuals; and program innovations institutions have undertaken with data that is available to them, along with suggestions for reform to meet institutional data needs that go beyond the limits of what currently accessible data can do.

The federal government’s ultimate goals for investing in large-scale job training initiatives are to help educate more students and support them in attaining successful outcomes, such as finding a job that pays a family-supporting wage. These programs should be accountable for achieving their desired completion and employment outcomes, particularly for non-traditional students and those living in poverty. For low-income individuals, the best protection against falling back, or further, into poverty is gaining skills that allow them to get a job in demand in their local labor market.

Too often, however, these programs are measured based on such inputs as the number of students enrolled, rather than on outcomes. And the input data is not always of great quality; many training programs are unable to demonstrate how often or how well students with non-traditional characteristics are participating in training programs, and how training providers might mitigate the additional barriers to completion faced by many of these students.

To promote success, future investments in such programs should include provisions enabling the reporting of more rigorous data on outcomes. We recommend the following policy solutions to the problem:

  • Institutions must be actively engaged with their local workforce development board and connected with employers. This facilitates the development of relevant training programs, job placements for students, and monitoring of former student success—all activities that support future program improvements.
  • Training programs must incentivize career pathway students’ efforts to upskill while consciously including opportunities for low-skilled individuals, rather than churning students through the program as quickly as possible. Moreover, federal funding for these initiatives should require that high school-level credentials earned as part of the training program’s career pathway count toward institutional outcomes.
  • Allow a student-level data collection. This would provide, for instance, a foundation for a more robust federal education and workforce data construct that allows federal investments across programs and agencies to be evaluated and given better consideration for potential future investments.
  • Training programs should be able to determine student employment and earnings outcomes by being allowed to compare their student data with wage record data from the state’s Unemployment Insurance system, with appropriate privacy safeguards.

These solutions are not just abstract ideas; they would directly address issues that institutions are struggling with as they implement federal workforce training programs. Current attempts by workforce programs to innovate around the limitations created by the federal Higher Education Act have caused an undue burden on these programs’ ability to effectively operate and evaluate success.

Read the paper here>>

Read the first paper in our series, No Educational Experience Should Be an Island: How Low-Income Students’ Access to and Persistence in Postsecondary Education is Restricted in the Very Programs they Need the Most.

Read the second paper in our series, Improving Connections to Student Aid: Helping Low-Income Students Benefit from National Investments in Workforce Training.



Nov 22, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults Confirms the Need for Investment in Correctional Education

By Duy Pham

On November 15, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) released the results of the U.S. Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) Survey of Incarcerated Adults. The survey, which examines incarcerated adults’ skills, work experience, and education, demonstrates a clear need to invest in correctional education and training.

IES compared a national sample of incarcerated adults in federal, state, and private prisons with data on the average U.S. household, finding stark differences in economic success. The results reinforce lessons from CLASP’s recent forum, Reconnecting Justice: Pathways to Effective Reentry though Education and Training, and suggest incarcerated people need more robust correctional education and training opportunities to become successful contributors upon reentering society.

On average, incarcerated adults’ educational attainment is far lower than that of the general population. Among those surveyed, 94 percent of incarcerated adults do not have a postsecondary credential, compared to 64 percent of U.S. households. In addition, 30 percent of incarcerated adults have not obtained a high school credential, compared to 14 percent of the general population.

The survey also finds that Black and Hispanic communities are overrepresented in prisons; they comprise 59 percent of incarcerated individuals but just 26 percent of U.S. households. Further, there are racial disparities in educational attainment, both inside and outside of prisons, for young Black and Hispanic men. Seventy-two percent of young Black men and 83 percent of young Hispanic men who are incarcerated do not have a high school diploma, compared to 58 percent of young White men.

This signals a clear need for educational opportunities that lead to degrees and credentials for incarcerated people. IES reports that just 21 percent of incarcerated adults are studying for a formal degree or credential, despite 70 percent saying they want to enroll. During the economic recovery, people with at least some postsecondary education have filled 95 percent of new jobs. In order to succeed economically, incarcerated individuals need strong correctional education and training programs that help them build skills, earn industry-recognized postsecondary credentials, and access pathways to the workforce when they reenter society. In addition to improving employment outcomes, research shows that these programs significantly reduce recidivism.

While education and training are major factors in helping incarcerated adults succeed, we must also remove barriers that block them from getting jobs when they reenter society. Each year, 650,000 people are released from jails and prisons, where they face nearly insurmountable barriers to employment. According to a 2014 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 70 percent of them are nonviolent offenders. Despite this, they are often disenfranchised and severely disadvantaged in finding sustainable employment, housing, and health care. These barriers often serve as perpetual punishments and promote recidivism; over two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years.

Federal and state policymakers should consider actions to improve correctional education and enable returning citizens to connect the skills they’ve gained to further learning and employment opportunities. Congress should lift the ban on Pell Grants to restore financial aid for postsecondary education during incarceration as well as augment the limited federal funding streams being used for correctional education. We have a long way to go to eliminate the 44,000 collateral consequences of conviction, but investing in correctional education would signal our commitment to rehabilitation and helping underserved communities succeed.

Nov 15, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

New Federal Guidance: Align Resources to Support Low-Income Students

By Lauren Walizer and Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield

Today, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King announced a joint guidance letter highlighting how student supports (such as access to public benefits, student aid, child care, and delivery strategies like career pathways) can promote college completion. The letter represents years of hard work by federal and state officials and higher education institutions as well as strong advocacy from CLASP and other experts.

“Aligning Federal Supports and Program Delivery for College Access and Completion”—released through a collaboration by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Treasury—is particularly relevant for low-income, nontraditional students, such as parents, independent adults, and first-generation college students. Recognizing the importance of postsecondary credential attainment to the economy, and the difficulties students face in finishing their degrees, states and institutions have set ambitious college completion targets, with several states awarding funding based on the outcomes of their institutions. Now, more than ever, college completion strategies are at a premium.

CLASP applauds the agencies for their work to streamline access to financial supports and postsecondary education. As unmet financial need has climbed for low-income students, CLASP has strongly emphasized the need for a comprehensive aid system that connects financial aid, public benefits, and refundable tax credits. We have also highlighted the importance of access to high-quality postsecondary education and training as a means for low-income recipients of public benefits, such as TANF and SNAP, to attain family-supporting jobs. The letter addresses both populations, noting “it is critical to ensure current means-tested benefits recipients access educational and training opportunities, and to connect eligible students with available federal supports and to partner with states to ensure these resources support their communities effectively.”

The agencies’ goal is to help states, service providers, colleges, and universities better understand the flexibility that exists within means-tested programs to support low-income students, how to coordinate among programs, and what resources may be available to both low-income students and public benefits recipients. This is a promising signal of cross-agency cooperation and broad recognition that many parts of a student’s life, particularly finances, affect his or her completion prospects.

The letter highlights recent guidance and resources from the six agencies that encourage increased alignment of federal programs to support postsecondary access and completion.

We appreciate the agencies’ commitment to aligning these programs to better support the college and career aspirations of low-income individuals. These are complex programs that are administered across local, state, and federal levels, making them challenging to synchronize. We encourage the federal government to further align policies and urge state governments to continue to simplify benefits access for low-income students and build stronger pathways out of poverty for those receiving public benefits.

With the recent elections decided, it’s time to get back to work.  CLASP is excited to collaborate with federal and state government, postsecondary institutions, and advocates to build a more comprehensive system of financial supports and preserve the ability for qualifying students to cross-participate in these critical programs. In the coming weeks, we will provide a more thorough analysis of the agencies’ guidance and resources to help advocates and stakeholders think critically about next steps.

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