To the Editor:
A recent op-ed, “Letting Employers Off the Hook,” drastically distorts the value of quality short-term credential programs to both workers seeking new career opportunities and employers in need of a stronger talent pipeline.
Those of us who are working directly with students and employers every day know the meaningful impact of short-term credential programs. Here in Virginia, the Fast Forward Program is connecting workers with affordable credential programs that quickly provide skills and training for 40 of the state’s most high-demand careers, like transportation, manufacturing, and information technology.
This program is a lifeline to workers who are either unemployed or looking for an avenue to quickly gain new skills to compete for in-demand jobs and better salaries. It’s also tremendously important to our business owners, many of whom are struggling to hire the qualified candidates to fill job openings.
Today, thousands of Virginians have enrolled in Fast Forward training programs with a 90 percent completion rate. Most importantly, the state reports that the majority of Fast Forward graduates see a 25-50 percent or higher wage gain after earning their credential. Research has also proven that allowing students to use Pell Grant funds to pay for short-term credential programs results in higher enrollment and completion rates.
A short-term credential that leads to a better job and higher income can make a tremendous difference for a family. For example, across the Virginia Community College System, students who earn a credential to become a certified nursing assistant increased their pre-certification income by 81 percent. VCCS also offers 32 credentials where the average post-training wages exceeded $50,000 annually (ranging from $50,222-$136,181). That’s life changing.
For some, earning several credentials may lead to an associate degree, or even an eventual bachelor's degree. For others, the credentials are sufficient to secure a satisfying job with benefits and a solid middle-class income to support their family – and some may say that’s what really matters.
As we work to recover from the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic, investing in rebuilding the middle class, efficiently strengthening the workforce talent pipeline, and helping more Americans access valuable postsecondary learning opportunities must be a top priority. I think we can all agree on that.
But we have to put an end to the false narrative that a bachelor’s degree is the only path to a fulfilling career and a livable salary. Quite frankly, it’s shortsighted to assume everyone has the time, resources and interest in dedicating four years or longer to earn a diploma. Instead, let’s focus on empowering all Americans by meeting them where they are and opening – rather than closing – the doors to a better future.
Chancellor, Virginia Community College System