A Job Training Program Emerges

February 10, 2005

Congress offered a first glimpse Wednesday at the new federal job training program for community colleges that President Bush unveiled more than a year ago. It came as members of a House of Representatives subcommittee approved a bill to renew the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.

Officials of two-year colleges generally liked what they saw.

The House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness passed the bill, the Job Training Improvement Act of 2005, after several hours of discussion and often heated partisan debate about such diverse (and tangentially related) topics as religious freedom and the war in Iraq. (Religion arose over a provision that would allow faith-based groups like the Salvation Army that provide jobs services to restrict their hiring to people of certain religions; Democrats raised the costs of the Iraq war in arguing vainly for more spending for training American workers.)

Many of the bill's major provisions, which are aimed at streamlining the finances and administrative operations of three programs to prepare displaced workers for jobs, will have little relevance for college officials, even though two-year colleges do receive funds through those programs.

Higher education's main interest in the bill is in the Community-Based Job Training Grants program, which President Bush first mentioned in his 2004 State of the Union address and for which the administration proposed $250 million in spending in the 2006 fiscal year.

The legislation authorizes the Labor Department to award grants to community colleges, or consortiums of two-year institutions, to work with local workforce investment boards and businesses to train workers for "high-skill, high-demand" industries. Like most legislation crafted during this era in which Republicans control most of the government, the new community college grant program would require institutions that receive grants to show how successful the people they've trained have been in actually getting jobs in their fields.

Although there had been some speculation on Capitol Hill that for-profit colleges might seek access to some of the new funds -- and while career college officials did make some inquiries along those lines -- the legislation approved Wednesday would restrict the funds to nonprofit two-year colleges.

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