Virginia Foxx is on a personal quest to nix the “T” word, as in “training.”
The chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee recalls what a former professor told a student when he used “training” in a classroom discussion: “You train animals; You educate people.”
Speaking at an event Tuesday held by the American Enterprise Institute on the eve of the House committee’s markup of a bill to reauthorize the federal Perkins Act — which funds many high school and postsecondary career and technical education programs — Foxx said the term only adds to the perceived stigma associated with vocational and trade careers.
“Words like this give people the impression that they are not a success without a bachelor’s degree,” she said, adding that she also would like to drop “career and technical education” and just use “higher education” to include all postsecondary education.
Foxx used her younger brother’s story as an example of how a bachelor’s degree is not necessarily needed to be a “success” — though she noted that some postsecondary education is needed. She recalled when her brother Butch, who is eight years younger than her, told her and their parents that he wasn’t planning to attend college after high school, and that he didn’t want them to be ashamed that he wouldn’t have a bachelor’s degree. He wanted to be a carpenter.
Foxx, who was employed at a resort at the time, almost immediately began working with her employer and others in the area to help develop a carpenter apprenticeship program through Lees-McRae College, which was a two-year college at the time before becoming a four-year college.
Three and a half years later, four of the 17 men who started the program — including her brother — become certified journeymen, and Foxx was there to present their certificates to them.
“I had to get three degrees to be considered successful,” she said. “All he needed was a journeyman’s license to become a carpenter.”
Foxx also highlighted the stories of several witnesses who testified before her committee, each one choosing a CTE pathway to pursue good-paying careers. To overcome the perception that trade jobs are less important or rewarding than those requiring baccalaureates, Foxx said educators, business leaders and other stakeholders must “change the narrative” and share such success stories.
Updating an important law
Career and technical jobs also build strong societies, the congresswoman said, adding that 3 million workers will be needed in the infrastructure industry over the next decade. That’s why the House committee is again marking up a bill to rework the Perkins Act, which hasn’t been updated for more than a decade. (The House last fall passed a Perkins bill by a vote of 405 to 5; it was not considered in the Senate.)
“The law must be modernized to reflect the realities that today’s students are facing,” Foxx said.
When asked about what in particular is new in the bill, Foxx cited an emphasis on accountability, transparency and innovation. The bill would, for example, give employers more voice on local workforce investment boards (WIBs) and “less control to bureaucrats.”
“This is going to put the onus on employers to get involved,” she said. Foxx recalled a business owner in her district who complained to her about a lack of skilled workers. When she asked if he served on the local WIB or if he knew about it, he responded “No.”
“Employers do need to take some responsibility,” she said.
Kudos from the field
Two-year college advocates — noting that the Perkins Act is the largest direct federal funding source for community colleges — said that H.R. 2353, the bill to reauthorize Perkins, would makes many improvements to current law.
“H.R. 2253 is a strong bill that keeps the program’s basic structure but modernizes the law and makes it better aligned with other federal programs, especially the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA),” said James Hermes, associate vice president of workforce development at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
For example, AACC and the Association of Community College Trustees laud that the bill would allow Perkins funding to support programs closely aligned with the needs of business and industry, mainly by encouraging states and local recipients to better coordinate activities supported by Perkins with WIOA and by requiring needs assessments to guide the expenditure of Perkins funding at the local level.
The bill’s postsecondary performance indicators also would be better aligned with WIOA’s accountability measures, “which marks a significant improvement in federal workforce policy,” the associations wrote in a joint letter to House committee leaders.
In addition, the legislation would base the indicators on newly-defined “CTE concentrators,” with the groups noting that they hope to continue to work with the committee to “refine this definition to ensure that it best captures those students who have shown that they are indeed CTE concentrators through their course-taking behavior.”