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A new policy paper published by the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project proposes two new federal government programs designed to bridge the divide between higher education and the workforce system. The goal of these linked new programs and funding streams, the paper's co-authors argue, is to expand and equalize access to postsecondary education, reduce the sector's reliance on in-person instruction and to develop a "cumulative science" of adult learning.

The paper proposes new Learning Opportunity Credits for U.S. adults who have experienced job loss and have received unemployment benefits during the last two years. The federal credits would be redeemable for postsecondary coursework offered by accredited and registered learning organizations.

The second proposal would require instructional providers that are eligible for the credits to "provide greatly enhanced and ongoing transparency on the nature of student learning and engagement and measurable returns to LOC recipients as they move through their adult lives." The paper calls this initiative the Future of Learning, Opportunity and Work (FLOW).

"Together, these two proposals meet acute needs for accessible learning opportunities in the wake of a global pandemic, while also creating pipelines for ongoing development of instructional programs and rigorous science for their continuous improvement," wrote the paper's co-authors, Richard Arum, professor and dean of the school of education at the University of California, Irvine, and Mitchell Stevens, professor of education and sociology at Stanford University.

"Investment in these twin policies is needed now not just to address the immediate needs of displaced workers and financial challenges of colleges and universities, but also to invest in the necessary infrastructure to ensure for the remainder of the 21st century the vitality and inclusiveness that has long made higher education in the United States the envy of the world," the paper concludes.