Time to expand intensive career training programs

As of May 28, 36.5 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance, a number far worse than the 2.7 million claims most economists were expecting and predicting.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported a loss of 20.5 million jobs in April 2020, which increased the unemployment rate to 14.7 percent, setting new Post-World War II records.

Joblessness remains pervasive throughout California and the United States, even as states continue to reopen. Employees are not being brought back to work in the same numbers as when they were displaced, nor at a fast pace. The shutdown caused by the pandemic was predicted to last for several weeks but that has extended to months, and for some workers, even much longer without an end in sight. Many industries are not sure if, or when, normal operations will return.

There is no one answer to this problem, but there is certainly an answer that makes financial sense: provide free training to adults who need to reskill and put this responsibility on the community colleges throughout the nation.

Tens of millions of Americans will require short-term, intensive career education to make themselves employable. Only one sector of the public education system delivers fast, free job training that leads to livable wages: adult noncredit education.

Keep state support strong

San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE), one of California’s (and one of the nation’s) largest providers of noncredit career education, offers more than 75 free career training certificate programs that are usually available at seven campuses throughout San Diego, but due to temporary closures, are now being taught online.

SDCE programs take only two to six months to complete. Any adult state resident can obtain credentials in dozens of program areas (e.g. culinary arts, coding, digital media, and nursing) without paying tuition or enrollment fees.

When California implemented the Strong Workforce Initiative three years ago, the funding was the primary incentive for the expansion of quality job training programs in the community college and K-12 systems. These dollars allowed SDCE to expand job training to include robust career development and placement services.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has been a champion of adult noncredit career education with the significant investments he has continually made toward the Strong Workforce Initiative.

As Sacramento now faces budgetary challenges, two critical and immediate issues must be addressed: 1) the continuation of strong workforce funding and 2) reconsideration of AB 1727, which addresses how attendance is taken for adult education classes.

The disproportionate reductions in funding to the Strong Workforce Initiative would devastate the progress California community colleges have made to expand vital and direct pathways from education to employment for the under and unemployed.

There are numerous funding sources available to community colleges, and as president of SDCE, I provide oversight for dozens of budget lines. The most critical budget and funding provide workforce training for adult students, yet this is the only categorical budget in the May Revise at risk of being cut by 54 percent.

Of all areas to cut out of the budget this year, career education funding should not be on the table. Strong Workforce funding must be maintained – if not extended – if our society wants to propel displaced Americans back into the workforce. The proposed cuts to Strong Workforce will decimate job training opportunities for displaced workers.

Only 2 percent of community college students are currently enrolled in short-term, noncredit vocational programs. As millions of residents will soon need job training to return to the workplace, this number need will skyrocket.

In addition to the preservation of Strong Workforce funding, the second critical and immediate issue is the way community colleges are paid for noncredit courses, which is based on attendance.

In the summary of the May Revised budget, the governor called for “Suspend[ing] procedures regarding the development of short-term career technical education courses and programs to expedite the offering of these programs and courses.” I fully support this mandate, but also believe we need to suspend the existing, antiquated attendance tracking formula.

The state needs to establish a new funding formula for adult noncredit courses. The positive attendance model used to determine apportionment for SDCE was suspended for the remainder of the spring semester due to the COVID 19 interruption of in-person courses on campus.

AB 1727 would have changed the attendance tracking method for vital career education programs in a way that positively impacts funding for noncredit career training programs. The bill passed both chambers with unanimous bipartisan support, but Newsom vetoed the bill.

I urge legislators and the governor to reconsider the spirit and intent of AB 1727 as they finalize the 2020-2021 budget, because passing AB 1727 would incentivize the expansion of fast, free career training across the 114 accredited California community colleges.

The need is both critical and immediate. We must invest in the modernization and expansion of noncredit job training opportunities for adults. SDCE has been leading this charge and is an example of what can be done quickly, professionally and successfully.

A new online academy

It might have been COVID 19 that prompted every higher education institution across the nation to ramp up online classes. But at SDCE, something far more innovative has launched – ICOM Academy (Interactive Competency-Based Online Microcredentialing).

ICOM Academy is a digital platform that could potentially house hundreds of online career options for adults, as California’s first fully accredited online noncredit institute. Initial programs focus on small business entrepreneurship, digital media, and information technology. The academy will deliver fully online career education certificates to support California’s working adults who need fast, free career training in a flexible learning environment.

With a plan to pilot ICOM Academy in the fall, SDCE was prepared to move five certificate programs including wrap-around supports–to a fully online environment in spring 2021. When SDCE campuses were forced to temporarily close in March due to the COVID 19 pandemic, the ICOM pilot was accelerated and will launch next month.

Not only has the launch set been expedited, but the number of programs has also been increased ahead of schedule. By January, ICOM Academy will deliver 14 career education certificates entirely online.

At this critical juncture, reductions to career education funding outlined the Governor’s May Revise will cause catastrophic harm to noncredit job training programs, which are more essential now than ever to the health and vitality of California’s economy.

About the Author

Carlos Turner Cortez
is president of San Diego Continuing Education, which is part of the San Diego Community College District in California.