Another Sector Heard From

Technical education group offers work force-focused recommendations for improving higher education.
April 6, 2007

There have been no shortage of reports in recent months and years about the problems and challenges -- crises, even -- confronting higher education and possible solutions to them: Margaret Spellings's Commission on the Future of Higher Education, the National Academies, the Skills Commission, and the National Conference on State Legislatures, all have weighed in, to name a few.

The Association for Career and Technical Education, which represents educators, researchers and others involved in preparing young people and adults for the work force, offered its own assessment this week of what the United States must do to bolster the number of people who get enough postsecondary education to succeed in the work force.

The report, "Expanding Opportunities: Postsecondary Career and Technical Education and Preparing Tomorrow's Workforce," shares much in common with the other recent reports, both in seeing peril if America does not find ways to educate a greater proportion of its citizens and in some of its suggested methods for doing so.

What distinguishes this report from the others is its "very real world connection to the work place," says Jan Bray, the technical education association's executive director. "This is a paper that aligns [the needs of higher education] to business and industry."

The new report focuses on the one-third of postsecondary students who are getting a career-related education, typically an associate degree or certificate, and often in a nonprofit community or technical college or a for-profit institution. But like their peers seeking a four-year undergraduate degree, the report notes, these students, too, often lack the skills they need to successfully join the work force, as even jobs that once were doable with only a high school degree now (because of changing technological and other requirements) demand at least some college.

To confront that "growing skills deficit," as the report calls it, the white paper suggests a set of recommendations that will sound familiar to consumers of the other recent reports on what ails higher education:

  • Establish postsecondary preparation and expectations for all.
  • Develop integrated systems that ensure that all levels of education (from elementary and secondary through to undergraduate if not graduate school) coordinate their activities and requirements to help students move through them successfully.
  • Develop curriculum and instructional offerings that link to careers, foster lifelong learning, and encourage students to finish their certificates or degrees.
  • Ensure portability and transferability of credits and skills attained across types of institutions and state borders
  • Enhance the quality of student advising and support programs for students' academic and personal lives.
  • Increase financial support for low-income students.
  • Pilot innovative funding solutions to support career and technical education.

For each recommendation, the report lays out steps that government officials, two-year and four-year college leaders, and others can take at the national, state and local levels to do their parts.

The report is also dotted with case studies of programs that are seen as national models, like Manpower Demonstration Research Center's Opening Doors project, which has improved community college graduation rates through small student scholarships, and the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges' Integrated Basic Education and Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training Program, which funds work force skills training and literacy education concurrently.

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