Last week I had the pleasure of attending the CAEL (Council for Adult and Experiential Learning) International conference in Chicago. This year’s theme was "Partners in Progress: Unite to Educate America's Workforce," and the sessions examined partnerships among universities and colleges, corporations, government, non-profit organizations, and workforce developers. This year's theme was timely as it took place against the backdrop of the results from the Presidential election.
In fact, the very first plenary session Thursday morning was called, “What do the results of the National Election mean for Adult Learners.” Lee Foley, President of Capitol Hill Partners, and Bill Hoagland, SVP of the Bipartisan Policy Center, provided tremendous insight into the potential policy implications of a changing administration. One of the observations that Bill made is that, after examining the exit polls for this year’s election and elections going back eight years, the trend is that people who have struggled to find their place in the “globalized knowledge economy” have moved towards the Republican party, while people who are fully participating in the globalized knowledge economy have moved towards the Democratic party. The key word to focus on is knowledge because it means that the only true “portal” from the Industrial Age to the Information Age for people currently not finding prosperity is through education & training. Bill referenced the New York Times bestseller, “Hillbilly Elegy” as a good window into this dynamic.
While Mr. Foley and Mr. Hoagland cautioned that it was very early after the election to speak with any certainty, they offered a forecast of what to expect at a high level for changes in policy coming out of the Federal government. They reminded everyone that the committee leaders who focus on education in both Congress and the Senate are not changing, and they are “known quantities” with clear policy preferences. They referenced Speaker Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way” as the blueprint for what to expect.
Based on that blueprint, educators should expect less Federal regulation, with power devolving back to the states. This could include moving student loans back to the local banking systems and including private capital; making block grants available to states that support school choice options at the K-12 level; increasing transparency and eliminating duplicate reporting requirements; ensuring that Federal dollars are aligned to local hiring needs and linked to outcomes; as well as “Evidence based” payments – similar to healthcare – may become the norm. Considering that one of President-elect Trump’s first priorities is significant investments in infrastructure, education and training related to that infrastructure would be beneficial.
Throughout the conference sessions, there was broad agreement that the challenge that lies before America requires a unified effort between government, educational institutions and employers. There were many examples of these types of partnerships and collaborative efforts to discuss. One of the most effective ways for working adult learners to gain a higher education credential is when the institution will perform a “prior learning assessment” and grant college credit for knowledge gained through work experience. JetBlue has a great example of this through their JetBlue Scholars program. Their internal mechanic training curriculum has been approved for 67 college credits, meaning employees who complete that 2 year program are over 50% of the way to completing a Bachelor’s degree. The Mountain View, California Chamber of Commerce talked about how they are offering a Working Scholars program to help those that live or work in Mountain View to obtain their college degree.
The conference concluded with the Business Champions roundtable where senior executives from UPS, Hilton and Blue Cross/Blue Shield all discussed their companies’ efforts to blend work and education together in order to create alternative pathways to meaningful credentials for their workers. As the moderator John Colborn, COO of JEVS Human Services, pointed out, while Federal spending on education and training programs is about $2 billion annually, the private sector invests about $650 billion annually. Clearly, employers can play an important role in helping everyone to gain the ability to fully participate in the global knowledge economy.
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