On Monday, Jan. 25, newly-elected President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at boosting American manufacturing and strengthening the federal government’s Buy American rules.
The goal of the executive order, was two-fold: help the United States manufacturing sector regain some of the roughly 540,000 factory jobs lost since February 2020 by allocating $600 billion of spending toward procurement to boost domestic factories and hiring. The order would also modify the rules for the Buy American program, making it difficult for contractors to sell foreign-made goods to federal agencies, among other new stipulations geared toward aiding American manufacturing.
While many in the trade support the new direction, it will be far from secular, as other industry-focused initiatives have been proposed, including a plan for education beyond high school.
According to a 2020 Georgetown University study, roughly 6-in-10 jobs today require some form of education beyond high school. When paired with changing (and improving) technology, American workers will need opportunities to continue their skill-building and learning for career success and increased wages in an Industry 4.0 economy.
Unfortunately, earning a degree or certification after high school has proven difficult – even unattainable – due to the high costs associated with higher learning. For some, it’s even a decision of continued education versus putting money toward a place to live.
With all of these roadblocks making it more difficult for Americans to better their educational and professional careers, it’s no wonder the United States is falling behind other countries in training and preparing students for the workforce.
However these executive orders show a commitment from the new administration to build paths to increase funding to improve technical training.
Understanding the Initiatives for Education Beyond High School
The proposed plan for education and training beyond high school will benefit Americans, regardless of parents’ income or the color of their skin. The two main action items include:
PART ONE: Invest in community colleges and training to improve student success.
PART TWO: Strengthening college as a reliable pathway to success.
All of these proposals will be implemented in partnership with states, as well as school faculty and staff, with educators playing a key role in the decisions affecting teaching and learning.
PART 1: Invest in Community Colleges
In a 2015 interview with AOL.com, First Lady Jill Biden, who possesses a doctorate in education and has been a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, said:
“Community colleges are certainly one of America’s best-kept secrets. In the past, there has been a stigma surrounding community colleges, where they were seen as a less viable option because they are not four-year universities. I know differently and so do the millions of people across the country who have received an affordable, quality higher education at community college.”
While community colleges have received an unfair reputation by some, vocational education is more popular than some believe. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, more than 852,000 Associate Degrees and 580,000 Certificates were awarded between 2017-18.
And those students have a large pool of available jobs to choose from upon graduation. Georgetown’s study estimated that 30 million quality jobs – with an average salary of $55,000 – are available without requiring a Bachelor’s degree.
With the success that community colleges have seen in recent years, it’s no wonder that the government has plans to build on the schools’ triumphs and unleash their full potential by:
- Providing two years of community college (or other high-quality training programs) without debt for any hard-working individual looking to learn and improve their skills to keep up with the changing workforce landscape.
- Create new grant programs to assist community colleges in improving student success
- Overcoming barriers that prevent students from completing their community college degree or training credential
- Make a $50 billion investment in workforce training, including community college business partnerships and apprenticeships
- Invest in community college facilities and technology
Providing two years of community college (or other high-quality training programs) without debt for any hard-working individual looking to learn and improve their skills to keep up with the changing workforce landscape.
The federal government plans to enact legislation to ensure that every individual can go to community college for up to two years without having to pay tuition. Individuals will also be able to use these funds to pursue training programs that have a track record of participants completing their programs and securing good jobs.
Not limited to just recent high school graduates, the proposed legislation would also be available to adults who never had the chance to pursue additional education beyond high school, or who need to learn new skills.
Upon completion, credits could then transfer to a four-year school, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs). The plan would include a federal-state partnership, with the federal government covering 75% of the costs, with states contributing the remaining obligations.
Create new grant programs to assist community colleges in improving student success
The proposed legislation also covers implementing evidence-based practices and innovative solutions to increase their students’ retention and completion of credentials. Reforms include academic and career advising services; dual enrollment; credit articulation agreements; investing in wages, benefits, and professional development to recruit and retain faculty, and improvements to remediation programs.
Overcoming barriers that prevent students from completing their community college degree or training credential
The community college initiative will be a “first-dollar” program, meaning that students can use their Pell grants, state aid, and other aid to help them cover expenses beyond tuition and fees.
In addition, the government’s plan will give states financial incentives to foster collaboration between community colleges and community-based organizations to provide “wraparound support services” for students, especially veterans, single parents, low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities who may face unique challenges.
Make a $50 billion investment in workforce training, including community college business partnerships and apprenticeships
Building on successful models championed through past initiatives, the government will make an investment of $50 billion in high-quality training programs. These funds will create and support partnerships between community colleges, businesses, unions, state, local, and tribal governments, universities, and high schools to identify in-demand knowledge and skills in a community and develop or modernize training programs – which could be as short as a few months or as long as two years – that lead to a relevant, in-demand industry-recognized credential.
These funds will also exponentially increase the number of apprenticeships in this country through strengthening the Registered Apprenticeship Program and partnering with unions who oversee some of the most successful apprenticeship programs throughout our nation.
Invest in community college facilities and technology
The government will invest $8 billion to help community colleges improve the health and safety of their facilities, and equip their schools with new technology that will empower their students to succeed in the 21st century.
PART 2: Strengthen College as a Reliable Pathway to Success
While many view higher education as a way to improve your class status, the United States is currently experiencing an unprecedented student debt crisis.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, roughly 44 million Americans hold a total of $1.5 trillion in student loans. Due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, one-in-five adults who hold student loans are behind on payments, with a disproportionate number of whom are black. The challenge is also intergenerational, with almost one-in-10 Americans in their 40s and 50s still holding student loan debt.
These factors have exacerbated the educational wealth gap, resulting in even larger disparity. But the Biden Administration has plans to address all of these challenges, including:
- Make two years of community college without debt
- Halves tuition costs for obtaining a four-year degree by earning an Associate’s Degree, and then transferring those credits to a four-year college or university.
- Ensure states both invest in community colleges AND give states some flexibility to also invest in college readiness or affordability at four-year institutions
Make two years of community college without debt
As previously mentioned, the government has plans to make education at community colleges free, which would immediately offer individuals a way to become work-ready with a two-year degree or an industry certification. The agenda also proposes to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all students whose family incomes are below $125,000.
Halves tuition costs for obtaining a four-year degree by earning an Associate’s Degree, and then transferring those credits to a four-year college or university.
Under the plan, individuals making $25,000 or less per year will not owe any payments on their undergraduate federal student loans, and also won’t accrue any interest on those loans. Everyone else will pay 5% of their discretionary income (income minus taxes and essential spending like housing and food) over $25,000 toward their loans, which would save millions of Americans thousands of dollars each year.
After 20 years, the remainder of the loans for people who have responsibly made payments through the program will be 100% forgiven.
In place of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, the government has plans to create a new program that offers $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate student debt relief for every year of national or community service, up to five years. Individuals working in schools, government, and other non-profit settings will be automatically enrolled in this forgiveness program; up to five years of prior national or community service will also qualify, as well adjunct professors.
Ensure states both invest in community colleges AND give states some flexibility to also invest in college readiness or affordability at four-year institutions
Under this proposal, the government would create a “Title I for postsecondary education” to help students at under-resourced four-year schools complete their degrees. This would offer seamless pathways between high school, job training, community college, and four-year programs to help students get their degrees and credentials faster.
The current administration would also challenge more communities to expand on these accelerated pathways, enabling students to obtain an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in less time. Approaches to accelerating degree attainment include:
- guided pathways that provide a sequence of classes for a specific area of study
- shifting toward a 12-month academic calendar
- better aligning high school, community college, and four-year college courses
- providing college credits for quality, degree-related on-the-job training
- offering degree-related paid internships for course credit
This would also include prioritizing the use of work-study funds for job-related and public service roles. It would also crack down on for-profit education programs and private lenders from profiteering off of students.
How Amatrol Can Help
With so many opportunities for potential technical training funding available, it may become overwhelmingly difficult to follow. That’s ok – let Amatrol help you!
Amatrol has been involved in technical education since the early 1980s, helping high schools and colleges achieve their ideal training programs to best prepare their students for the industrial workforce. Our expert consultants, who are available in all 50 states and internationally, are proactive in finding funding at the local, state, and federal level in your area. Let them help guide you to potential sources of funding for your program.
With new political Administrations come new policies and initiatives. And with those new initiatives comes renewed opportunities to improve America – in this instance, the manufacturing sector.
Following the government’s proposed goals for improving technical training, students and educators should begin to see improvements in not only the way education is taught in schools and colleges, but also in finding well-compensated employment upon graduation.
These initiatives are also not limited to a single gender, race, or economic standing – instead, these proposals are intended to improve the lives of hard-working Americans that might not have the opportunity at a post-secondary educational degree or certification.
As First Lady Biden reminds us: “As a community college professor for over 20 years, I’ve seen the determination, resilience and dedication of countless students. Regardless of circumstances, they show up. They work hard. They believe anything is possible.”
About Wes Scott
Wes Scott is a former public high school teacher and journalist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Wes on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.