What to expect on Capitol Hill

There are several emerging trends on Capitol Hill that are beneficial to community colleges — and are not expected to change drastically regardless of which party holds control of Congress next January.

First, both Congress and the Trump administration recognize that more Americans need to be equipped with the skills and credentials necessary to help employers in high-demand professions. With more jobs available than workers in our current economy, work-based learning has gained considerable momentum in Washington, D.C., as a core mechanism to help jobseekers gain employment, with the strongest focus on how to quickly expand the number of apprenticeships.

Focus on apprenticeships

Members of Congress in both parties have proposed bills to increase both the number of apprenticeships and the types of occupations eligible to offer them. However, an ideological debate between the parties has ensued over the role of registered apprenticeship programs, which require a state certification process and have been traditionally used by trade unions. While many Republicans have not been enamored with expanding registered apprenticeship programs, they have been drawn to creating a new brand of apprenticeship that is business led, rather than requiring a governmental certification.

This excerpt comes from the October/November edition of AACC’s Community College Journal.

These so-called industry recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs) were fast-tracked by President Trump’s executive order last year establishing a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion — on which Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of American Association of Community Colleges, served — to provide specific recommendations for accelerating business-led apprenticeships.

The task force issued its report in May, and the administration has built upon these findings to create a new funding opportunity in which community colleges will play a central role. The Scaling Apprenticeships through Sector-Based Strategies grants, released by the U.S. Department of Labor in July, offer a total of $150 million in grants for 15-30 business-led apprenticeship projects.

The grants will focus on expanding apprenticeships in high-demand sectors and require an educational or instructional component and supportive services that results in an industry- recognized credential. What is appealing about this funding is how broadly community colleges can use it to pay for program development, including working with industry partners to establish new apprenticeship programs, creating the infrastructure and curricula necessary to provide industry-approved, competency-based programming for on-the-job and classroom training, as well as developing quality assurance processes and data systems, and outreach to small- and medium-sized businesses to expand apprenticeships within a given industry sector.

Steps to eliminate regulations

Another emerging trend is the concerted effort by the U.S. Education Department (ED) to eliminate key regulations undertaken by the Obama administration. Hundreds of pieces of guidance have already been rescinded, along with either the delay or elimination of regulations impacting state authorization, credit hour, accreditation, teacher training and most recently the gainful employment regulation, which would have affected both community colleges and for-profit providers.

While ED’s focus has been on deregulation, there also is an opportunity for community colleges to test new ways to use Title IV funds through the department’s Experimental Sites authority, which previous administrations have used.

The Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI) allows ED to waive specific statutory or regulatory requirements in Title IV upon the request of a Title IV-approved institution. The department examines the result of this pilot against current law to determine whether it can be used as a model for other institutions nationally. Examples of the types of pilots approved in recent years through the ESI include competency-based education, prior learning assessments and Pell funds for short-term training. Typically, the department approves waiver requests from institutions on a case-by-case basis, but they can also do so more broadly through a RFP.

While the Trump administration hasn’t yet used ESI, colleges proactively can submit a letter of inquiry directly to the Experimental Sites team at ExperimentalSites@ed.gov outlining its desire to request a pilot and outline the components of its project. If the concept is of interest, the ESI team will negotiate the specific components of the waiver and once approved can provide technical assistance, reporting requirements, specific waivers provided under the experiment, and required policies, procedures and other documentation.

Senior administration officials have indicated that they expect to explore using the ESI authority and have expressed specific interest in having institutions test alternative approaches to providing federal work-study programming.

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About the Author

John Colbert / Leander J. Foley III
are with Capitol Hill Partners in Washington, D.C.