Emphasis on apprenticeships, Pell for short-term programs

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday emphasized before House appropriators the department’s and administration’s efforts to broaden education and career opportunities through earn-and-learn programs, with a focus on apprenticeships.

Speaking before a House appropriations subcommittee that oversees education funding, DeVos discussed part of the president’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal for education, which included addressing the need to present students with more opportunities to explore technical careers, which provide pathways to good-paying, skilled jobs. The education to attain those jobs is also less expensive than that of a baccalaureate, she added.

Last month, the Trump administration released its budget plan for fiscal year 2019, which continues to carry the president’s emphasis on workforce development — especially through apprenticeships — and would allow students to use Pell grants for certain short-term programs.

The president’s proposal, which would level-fund Pell and keep the maximum grant at $5,920, would extend Pell eligibility to high-quality, short-term programs that lead to a credential, certification or license for an in-demand field — with sufficient “guardrails in place.”

More education, career options

The secretary was grilled by several Democrats on the committee over issues that included school safety, student loans, race and equity, state control of education programs and even her recent interview on the CBS News program 60 Minutes. Republicans were easier on DeVos, generally complimenting her for the administration’s focus on preparing students for careers, occasionally citing partnerships between community colleges and industries in career and technical education.

“They work hand in glove together to ensure students are prepared with the right skills to be successful and have job options when they graduate,” said Rep. Martha Roby (R-Alabama).

DeVos also cited the administration’s push to allow students to use Pell grants for short-term programs—which is supported in a House bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act—and efforts for K-12 schools to use dual enrollment as a way to allow students to prepare for college-level work and earn college credits.

“In fact, we would advocate for making the CTE [career and technical education] programming through the Perkins program more flexible to reach down even into middle school to help students know and understand what pathways they might have beyond high schools to consider,” she said.

Cautious about TRIO plan

The president’s budget also would significantly cut funding for TRIO and transition it to a single state formula and eliminate funding for GEAR UP — something that Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) was cautious about and asked for more details. He said too many first-generation students enter college not ready to do college-level work and are at a disadvantage at navigating the college environment.

“It is important to ensure that these students can succeed in completing coursework, as I believe that every new generation who completes college only helps grow the future workforce and supports the economy,” Cole said, which is why he supports TRIO and GEAR UP, adding that TRIO has helped to produce 5 million college graduates in the U.S., a good portion of whom otherwise might not have gone to college.

The idea for the block grants is to offer states more flexibility in how they disperse the funds, as 90 percent of TRIO grants in past years go to the same institutions, DeVos said.

“We believe that the states are closer to the students and the institutions that are served and would be best-suited to make the decisions on where these TRIO funds go to make the most difference for students,” she said.

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