Appropriators take a deeper look at apprenticeships

Maria Coons, vice president of workforce and strategic alliances at Harper College in Illinois, speaks Wednesday at a House appropriations hearing. (Image from webcast)

As apprenticeships appear to gain steam as a job-training model, House appropriators want to ensure that there are accountability parameters for apprenticeship programs that could be eligible for federal funding.

At a House education and job training appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, members from both sides of the aisle said they support apprenticeships — both registered and industry-supported models — but for the latter they would like to some accountability if they tap federal funds. Subcommittee chair Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) said such programs need to be defined, whether by eligibility requirements, standards or some type of evaluation, to ensure that federal funds are used appropriately and effectively. Developing such definitions — which would have to be done by the committee that oversees education and workforce programs — would also likely help to win more congressional support to increase funding for apprenticeships, he said.

“This is probably an area we have been under-investing in for a long time,” partly because there is currently no such a model to easily and quickly explain to members of Congress what the programs are intended to do and their returns on investment, Cole said.

Short-term Pell, childcare costs

At Wednesday’s hearing, appropriators heard from companies that offer apprenticeships, as well as from training providers, such as community colleges. Maria Coons, vice president of workforce and strategic alliances at Harper College in Illinois, outlined the college’s efforts to develop apprenticeships in industries that traditionally haven’t offered them, such as insurance.

Speakers before the panel also highlighted the importance of allowing students to use federal Pell grants for short-term programs, which appears to have growing support in Congress. Coons noted that often a Pell Grant covers tuition at a community college, and students can use any leftover grant money on related expenses, such as transportation.

The panelists also addressed non-tuition expenses and other challenges that often keep students from enrolling in apprenticeship programs, such as child care. Harper College has a child learning center for employees and students, and it has a partnership with a local university to use its childcare services when Harper’s center is closed, Coons said. In addition, donors are increasingly contributing toward scholarships specifically created to help Harper students with childcare costs, she said.

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