Gene Sofer, CAAL Legislative Advisor (Susquehanna Group)
& Gail Spangenberg, CAAL President
During the election campaign, both President Obama and Gov. Romney recognized the need for job training. We need to capitalize on this opportunity and keep job training high on the agenda—which means advocating anew for the House and Senate to advance and enact WIA, quickly completing reauthorization, and ensuring a robust Adult Education program (Title II), with major provisions of the Adult Education and Economic Growth Act incorporated.
As we do this, we should be aware that for many lawmakers, WIA is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Or so it seems to us. It hasn’t been reformed and reauthorized since 1998 and life has gone on. We also need to realize that for most legislators and many national leadership groups in workforce development, WIA is usually taken to mean Title I. Title II, where the Adult Education provisions are primarily located, is too often an afterthought.
In addition, many leaders who might otherwise be supportive believe the entire workforce development system, including Adult Education, doesn’t work well. We need to do something to change that erroneous, damaging perception. The bottom line is that workforce development and adult education leadership groups need to make the argument much more effectively than we do now that WIA and Adult Education work. They are both relevant and needed to achieve the nation’s employability goals.
As CAAL’s blog posting of October 2nd pointed out, we’ve been aware for a long time of the need for Return-on-Investment (ROI) evidence to sell Adult Education. Yet we aren’t even close to having the data in our arsenal of facts to demonstrate what we intuit: Adult Ed students get better jobs, earn more money, do better in college, and are promoted more frequently than those who lack readiness for jobs, job training, and college. Put another way, we know Adult Education “creates” jobs and lowers unemployment. But to date, we haven’t done a good enough job explaining our outcomes, especially to leaders of both parties in Congress. We need to make it more apparent to policy makers just how the Adult Education system operates, whom it serves, how much it has accomplished despite its severely inadequate funding, and how it is administered. Our goal should be twofold: to preserve the Adult Education system we have while working to strengthen and modernize that system.
More broadly, we should be aware that the impending “fiscal cliff” and sequestering—across the board cuts of about 8 percent in most domestic discretionary programs—would have major implications for the adult education and workforce development system. There’s no time to waste.
To help move things in the right direction, CAAL will shortly undertake a small 6-month ROI project, aiming to pull together through literature review and a short survey some initial evidence of effectiveness in Adult Education. But a major investment by government and/or private philanthropy over a period of 2-3 years is needed to do a truly thorough job. And in the meantime, as national groups like ours work this front, practitioners, students, and employers also have a key role to play. We hope you will make sure your state and local elected officials hear in concrete terms about your adult education and workforce skills development efforts so that they can be better allies for our cause.
One final observation. The Administration seems to equate investment in job training with investment in community colleges. We understand and embrace a stronger community college role—the entire Adult Education field should—but that in itself will not strengthen the Adult Education system. While community colleges are a major and essential part of the adult education service network (they already provide a third of all adult education services), they are not a venue for the majority of those low-skilled adults, including people with poor ESL skills, who are neither college- nor job-ready. That is the unique role of Adult Education.
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