Community college advocates on Tuesday got a legislative update and pep talk from a handful of House lawmakers before they visited with their congressional representatives in an effort to secure more funding for critical federal programs and to offer ways to improve those programs.
The timing was key as the House aims to vote Wednesday on legislation that would include fiscal year 2020 funding for education and job training programs.
Participants of the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual Advocates in Action meeting in Washington, D.C., met with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), chair of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees education and job training, and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon), who serves on the House Education and Labor Committee. The college leaders also heard from Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Michigan), a proponent of better student outcomes data.
Kudos for apprenticeships
In the morning discussion, DeLauro applauded the effort of community colleges to serve all students, but especially those with limited access to higher education, noting that they provide a “passport out of poverty” into the middle class. She highlighted the work of several community colleges in Connecticut, particularly an apprenticeship program for public utility managers co-developed by Gateway Community College and two universities. She also gave kudos to Middlesex Community College for a program it created for insurance claims adjusters.
But DeLauro was clear in her support for federally registered apprenticeships, noting that there is a “movement” for industry-recognized apprenticeship programs, which she and several Democratic leaders do not favor.
DeLauro then covered some of the details in the appropriations bill the the House Appropriations Committee passed last month, including a proposed $150 increase to the maximum Pell Grant amount (which would be $6,345). The bill also would provide: $1.1 billion for federal TRIO programs, an increase of $100 million; $395 million for the GEAR UP program, an increase of $35 million; and $1 billion for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, an increase of $188 million. In addition, the Federal Work-Study program would see an increase of $304 million, to $1.4 billion.
The congresswoman also noted a proposed $150 million program for education and career training at community colleges called the Strengthening Community College Training Grants program. DeLauro said the inspiration for the program is based on the success of the now-expired Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program that focused on accelerated training for unemployed or underemployed workers so they can find jobs quickly.
“I was determined to go down this road again,” she said of the program.
On the HEA horizon
Bonamici provided an overview of the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization, which appears to have slowed after a quick start in both the House and Senate earlier this year. Education committees in both chambers have held HEA-related hearings, with the House Education and Labor Committee poised to hold another one that will focus on higher education innovation through the lens of equity. Despite the slowdown, both sides of the aisle appear willing to try to work out differences as staffers from the Senate education committee were scheduled to meet about HEA on Tuesday.
Bonamici highlighted her key areas in reworking HEA, which include updating the Work-Study program, providing better financial counseling to students, improving income-driven repayment to reduce student loan defaults, and helping students with disabilities transfer more easily from high school to community colleges.
She noted that investments in higher education and job training not only help people to improve their own lives, but have a societal benefit by reducing welfare dependence, improving health care and keeping people out of prison.
Better data, better decisions
Mitchell focused his comments on exposure to careers at an earlier age, improving basic literacy, and providing students and families with better information to help them select the right college for them. He said that the K-12 system is doing a poor job in preparing students for college-level work, with community colleges often asked to help with remedial education. One way to stress the importance of education and to make students aware of college and career options is to expose students at an earlier age to career opportunities and the required postsecondary education for those jobs, Mitchell said.
Mitchell also pushed for a bill he introduced (the College Transparency Act) that would, in part, ensure students and families have access to accurate and complete information on student outcomes, such as completion and employment outcomes across colleges and majors. To accomplish that, the legislation calls to use student-level data collection.
“You get more information about the reliability of a washer and dryer” than about college outcomes, Mitchell added.
Some critics of such a system say it could comprise students’ privacy. But Mitchell argued that the benefits to help students make an informed college and career choice is crucial, noting that much of the information is already provided by families to the government and other organizations.