NLS Kicks Off With Focus on Workforce Development

February 11, 2020

As the 2020 Community College National Legislative Summit kicked off Monday, a U.S. Department of Labor official and other speakers stressed the importance of further integrating higher education and workforce development.

"Workforce is an eminently fixable problem-we know what employers need, we have training providers to provide training... and 42 million people we can conduct outreach to [and] pull into workforce training, ultimately landing them in a job. It's really that simple," said John Pallasch, the department's assistant secretary for employment and training.

During his keynote address Monday, Pallasch stressed increased collaboration on workforce and education issues between the Department of Labor and other federal agencies. Pointing to an upcoming $40 million competitive grant program targeted at workforce programs at community colleges, he added that the Trump Administration is committed to empowering state and local workforce initiatives. 

"Take that as your guide to be innovative and creative, to come to us with solutions," he said. 

Other speakers echoed the growing recognition by policymakers that higher education will need new models to address the needs of the growing ranks of nontraditional students, including the short-term, workforce-oriented programs that would be supported by several legislative proposals that would allow them to be eligible for Pell Grant funding for the first time. 

"You're starting to see a recognition that if you're trying to think about federal or state higher ed policy, you can't fully talk about that strategy unless you're talking about workforce development," National Skills Coalition Managing Director for Policy Kermit Kaleba said during a session Monday afternoon.

Noting there are more than 1 million more open jobs than people seeking work to fill them, Pallasch told community college leaders that the booming economy represents an opportunity to re-engage the 6 million unemployed Americans and 36 million who are out of the workforce. "How are we as one workforce community engaging with those individuals, providing the training they need to find a suitable job?" he asked. "It's a great challenge to have. Given the strength of the economy, now is the time to make real systemic changes to the workforce and how it operates."

More than 900 community college presidents, trustees, students, and advocates are in Washington, D.C., to advocate for community colleges on Capitol Hill during the 2020 NLS.  Gallup consultant John Clark noted that only 19 percent of all higher ed trustees - and even fewer students - had engaged with a member of Congress on education issues in the past year. 

"By virtue of being here this week, you're already in the top quintile," he said. 

Community college leaders have a strong case to make for increased federal support of community colleges, Clark said. According to Gallup research, "Graduates of community colleges are more likely to have professors who care about them. They're also more likely to have had a mentor and say their coursework was more relevant to their future work than that of university students." 

Also Monday, community college leaders were briefed on 2020 community college federal legislative priorities, which include 1) reauthorizing the Higher Education Act; 2) investing in education and workforce development; and 3) supporting Dreamers. More information about the legislative priorities and further background can be found at https://www.acct.org/page/legislative-priorities.

Policy focus sessions dedicated to expanding Pell Grants to shorter-term training programs, federal support for student parents, advancing College Promise programs and the student's role in effective advocacy convened in the afternoon.

#NLS2020 was trending on Twitter yesterday in Washington as participants live-tweeted from the event. 

The 2020 Community College National Legislative Summit continues today with a presentation by Diane Auer Jones, principal deputy under secretary for education, U.S. Department of Education, in the morning and presentation of the 2020 National Education Service Awards to Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

For more information, contact David Conner at dconner@acct.org