5
The Federal Role in Postsecondary Training

A desirable system of postsecondary training for the workplace would be coherent, readily accessible, and closely connected to the actual world of work; it would have clearly visible and positive effects on those trained, and be uniformly high in quality. Individuals seeking to enter specific occupations or advance in them would know what kind of training employers value and where to find it. Employers would know what skills and competencies have been developed as a result of training programs. Individuals would have the information they need to gauge their interest in and suitability for various jobs, as well as the likely demand for workers in various fields. Employers would have information about the existing and future supply of trained workers, and they would be able to signal their needs to training providers.

We do not find these attributes to be broadly present in American postsecondary training, despite the existence of many isolated exemplars such as community colleges and proprietary schools offering high-quality vocational programs, employers strongly committed to the continuous improvement of their workers at all levels, or community groups effectively helping welfare recipients move into the work force.

The problems found in American postsecondary training are not new. Almost 30 years ago, a study sponsored by the American Council on Education (Venn, 1964:85) reported that "[o]pportunities for postsecondary occupational education are best described as a sometime thing" and decried the same kind of disjointedness that exists today.



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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy 5 The Federal Role in Postsecondary Training A desirable system of postsecondary training for the workplace would be coherent, readily accessible, and closely connected to the actual world of work; it would have clearly visible and positive effects on those trained, and be uniformly high in quality. Individuals seeking to enter specific occupations or advance in them would know what kind of training employers value and where to find it. Employers would know what skills and competencies have been developed as a result of training programs. Individuals would have the information they need to gauge their interest in and suitability for various jobs, as well as the likely demand for workers in various fields. Employers would have information about the existing and future supply of trained workers, and they would be able to signal their needs to training providers. We do not find these attributes to be broadly present in American postsecondary training, despite the existence of many isolated exemplars such as community colleges and proprietary schools offering high-quality vocational programs, employers strongly committed to the continuous improvement of their workers at all levels, or community groups effectively helping welfare recipients move into the work force. The problems found in American postsecondary training are not new. Almost 30 years ago, a study sponsored by the American Council on Education (Venn, 1964:85) reported that "[o]pportunities for postsecondary occupational education are best described as a sometime thing" and decried the same kind of disjointedness that exists today.

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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy Thirty years ago, however, the consequences of an inadequate training system were less threatening. With the other major industrialized nations still recovering from the Second World War, the United States had no serious economic challengers. Today, there are many challengers, and the industrial, labor-market, and human resource strategies that worked so well for most of this century may not keep the United States at the economic forefront. Thirty years ago, many of the federal training programs studied in this report did not exist: postsecondary institutions had only recently been made eligible for vocational education money; employment training programs were just beginning; welfare-based training was not on the agenda. Now, thanks to new federal and state initiatives, many more training programs exist, but opportunities for postsecondary training remain a sometime thing. The committee concludes that the time has come for the nation to focus on linking up the various pieces of and partners in postsecondary training. They must be linked in ways that will provide coherent and high-quality training opportunities for individuals at various stages in their working lives. Coherence must ultimately be rooted at the local labor-market level; because they are responsible for many of the training institutions and much of the public funding for training, states are central to developing a training infrastructure that will meet local needs. A national system should, in fact, be composed of a variety of systems that differ somewhat among states and localities but that present potential trainees and employers with integrated training opportunities and information. (The term postsecondary training system as used in this report encompasses the notion of a variety of state and local systems.) The federal government has an important, albeit limited, contribution to make in helping such a system come about. It is important, therefore, to stress at the outset that the federal government needs to change the way it has approached support for postsecondary training in the past. It also needs to improve its existing array of categorical programs aimed at specific needs (see Chapter 7). More important, however, the federal government must move beyond support for individual programs and take the lead in promoting policies that encourage quality and coherence in the training system as a whole. In recommending a change in the federal role, we emphasize that developing a more coherent, high-quality system is a dauntingly complex task, one not readily amenable to quick or blunt policy strokes. Subsequent chapters discuss in some detail how the federal government could foster high-quality training and be an agent of change. To lay the groundwork for that discussion, this chapter describes how we view the scope of federal responsibility for postsecondary training and why the federal government should adopt a catalytic role in spurring systemic reform.

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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy SCOPE OF FEDERAL RESPONSIBILITY In Chapter 1 we identified four distinct training needs: qualifying training, to prepare people for labor market entry or reentry; skills improvement training, to help people improve their performance in their current jobs or occupations; retraining, for people whose job skills have become obsolete; and second-chance training, for those whose earlier encounters with the education and training systems have been unsuccessful. Responsibilities in each of these areas must be shared among governments at different levels as well as with private actors; moreover, the extent of federal responsibility currently varies substantially among these different types of training, and we believe this differentiation should continue. Finally, the four types of training are distinct enough that no single approach or program is likely to serve all needs well; the existence of multiple programs is inevitable. In Chapter 3 we described the many and complex functions a training system must serve. The federal government has only limited responsibility for these functions, but it can use its influence to help ensure that the system performs well in: Providing access to training for those who can benefit from it. The federal government is key to providing financial access to some kinds of postsecondary training (especially second-chance training), though its role in funding access to other training is not as central. Providing information about training alternatives and results. The federal government has a very important role to play in encouraging the development and dissemination of better consumer and career information, but this information must often be produced at both state and local levels. Providing high-quality, accountable training programs. The federal government has an important role in encouraging the development of mechanisms for promoting and rewarding quality performance. However, we again emphasize that state and local governments or private groups will usually have the most direct responsibility for improving quality and sustaining high-quality performance. Involving employers effectively in the education and training system. The central purposes of the system we are examining include improving people's chances of getting and keeping good jobs and performing well in them. Achieving these purposes plainly requires that training matches employers' needs and expectations. Here again, the federal government should help foster improvements in employer-training connections, while recognizing that many of the connections should be accomplished in decentralized ways. Improving coordination and articulation among training efforts. We see two kinds of problems of overlap and poor coordination among training programs, which we call vertical and horizontal articulation. By

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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy vertical articulation we mean the availability of well-defined paths by which a person may move through the training system, from less to more sophisticated levels. By horizontal articulation, we mean first, coordination among programs so that individuals have easy access to a comprehensive and clear set of services rather than a fragmented and poorly understood array of choices. Second, we refer to the need for commonly understood workers' credentials that will allow workers to move among employers and across geographic boundaries. Such movement is especially important in minimizing the human costs of changes in economic demand. The federal government can encourage those involved at various levels to coordinate their efforts in productive ways. It can also spur the development of credentials that qualify workers for career paths and that are understood beyond the boundaries of the local labor market where they were earned. Finally, the federal government can guard against the tendency for individual federal programs to impose incompatible requirements that produce unintended barriers to movement through the system. There is much we do not know about the ideal shape of a system that performs these various functions effectively in a decentralized nation and economy. But there are steps the federal government can and should now take. Throughout American history the federal government has supported preparation for work. Today, another federal push is needed to help American training policies adapt again to changing economic challenges. POINTS OF LEVERAGE America's federal traditions and history of shared domestic policy-making responsibility are important considerations in finding the most effective leverage points for federal policies on postsecondary training. The relationship between the federal and state or local governments has undergone important changes in the last decade or so (Nathan, 1990; Rivlin, 1992; Shannon and Kee, 1989), with implications for the design of an effective training system. After a half-century in which the federal government became increasingly active in domestic policy and increasingly influential in the affairs of state and local governments, the tide turned in the late 1970s and especially with the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. Growing fiscal constraints coupled with Reagan's desire to reduce the size of government led to a sharp decline in the number of and funding for federal grant-in-aid programs to the states and localities. As Table 5.1 indicates, categorical grant programs to state, local, and public and private nonprofit organizations numbered 534 in 1981 and only 392 in 1984. (However, this decline was only temporary.) There was an ironic and, at least for some, unexpected result. In what

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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy TABLE 5.1 Federal Categorical Grant Programs (selected fiscal years) Recipient 1975 1981 1984 1991 States only 162 194 153 205 State and local 62 69 42 49 Local only 20 23 14 22 State, local, and public and private nonprofits 198 248 183 267 Total 442 534 392 543   SOURCE: Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (1992:12). Nathan (1990:233) has dubbed the ''paradox of devolution,'' state governments were activated and strengthened by the federal retreat. 1 In the 1980s, states were not only willing but also able to redress the balance of power that had been shifting toward the federal government since the 1930s. And, for fiscal reasons if nothing else, the federal government may have a hard time regaining the initiative back for the foreseeable future. Because of the need to reduce the federal budget deficit, the federal government is unlikely to have large amounts of money to use as leverage on state policies in a period when states are increasingly capable of acting on their own. This also suggests the importance of the federal government using its funds where its leverage can be most effective. This conclusion is also consistent with the recognition that training is largely in state and private hands, as Chapter 2 has shown. Even in programs where federal funding is relatively important (for example, JTPA and JOBS), part of the "paradox of devolution" is that states were assigned important responsibilities in the 1980s for planning and administration. Moreover, there are powerful norms of self-governance and self-regulation (exercised, for example, through accreditation) that condition acceptable federal intervention (Lad, 1992). To be effective, then, federal training policies must take into account the limits on federal influence, as well as the problems of prescribing uniform requirements for 50 states whose major training institutions (such as schools) vary in critically important ways. A final consideration is that states are not only better positioned to develop the infrastructure of the first real training system that has ever existed in this country, but that there is growing evidence of their willingness to do so. We saw in Chapter 3 that, within the past 5 years, a number of states have taken serious steps to address the preparation and quality of their work forces. The federal government ought to nurture this enormously

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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy promising development and evaluate whether the promise is indeed fulfilled. We emphasize that in the United States vocation-oriented training has been, if not an orphan, at least a stepchild. American society has not respected it or given it the status accorded preparation of a more traditional academic nature. Federal postsecondary training programs have usually evolved as off-shoots of programs whose main objectives were elsewhere: vocational education money was targeted at high schools for nearly 50 years before postsecondary schools became eligible; student aid was created with 4-year colleges in mind; the welfare system became interested in training only after many earlier attempts to wean people from the welfare rolls through other methods failed to have the desired results. The reasons for training's subordinate status are complex and deeply imbedded in our history and culture and conceptions of what it means to be a democratic nation whose citizens' futures are not determined by circumstances of birth or social class but where opportunities and social mobility are open to all. They are further complicated by an economic history that more often found workers and employers pitted against each other rather than collaborating to create both the general skills that give individuals flexibility and the specific skills that employers want. The stepchild status of training for work may be changing. Chapter 3 described the growing number of promising state initiatives designed to bring business, education and training institutions, and state officials together to restructure education and training systems in order to improve the planning and delivery of integrated work force development services. The federal government needs to be careful not to unwittingly derail the progress being made in the states; it has the potential to reduce the creativity being demonstrated by state, local, and business leaders. Chapter 3 referred to some of the barriers to state systemic reforms erected by incompatible federal rules and requirements. Since we believe that the nation still has much to learn about how best to organize training, we argue below and in Chapter 8 for federal policies that encourage the natural experimentation taking place at the state level. Centralization at the state rather than the federal level appears to offer the benefits of system-building, while minimizing the dangers to creativity that could come from overly prescriptive unitary policies dictated at the federal level. The federal government, with its national perspective, is uniquely able to articulate the goals of the country for better postsecondary training, to act as a catalyst to spur the improvement of training, and to encourage the development of systematic approaches to training. There are at least three reasons why the federal government should take on these tasks, while continuing to support existing programs whose goals of equalizing opportuni

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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy ties and providing second chances are well-established special federal responsibilities. First, the federal government can bring visibility to the needs of the large middle of the work force between the high-school-educated and the college-trained that has been seriously neglected in this country, just as a decade ago the federal government helped focus attention on high school with its report, A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). This middle group potentially includes a large majority of all workers. Second, while states are often wonderful laboratories for developing new ideas and programs (e.g., Osborne, 1990), the federal government has several advantages in fostering the spread of innovation. Innovation in the states tends to occur unevenly; the federal government is ideally situated to provide information and technical assistance on program improvements and to provide incentives that will encourage postsecondary providers to seek out and adopt the best practices. The federal government is in a better position than states to undertake research and evaluation, because of economies of scale and the benefits such research provides to all participants. Finally, even though sub-baccalaureate labor markets are local, some things (such as training credentials, see Chapter 6) should be national in scope to foster worker mobility and spur employer use through a common understanding of what the credentials mean. Third, the federal government has historically been a leader in shifting the focus of the nation's institutions (especially schools and colleges) as economic changes demanded new ways of preparing people for adult responsibilities. Long before America's citizens and legislators were ready to allow the federal government to give general aid to education, probably the most strongly held reserved power given to the states by the Constitution, they were prepared to support federal aid to occupation-oriented training.2 But while the federal government has historically spurred the development of training opportunities, especially for the young, it also bears some responsibility for the fragmentation of the nation's training effort. The federal tendency to proliferate categorical grant-in-aid programs in many areas of social policy has been widely discussed and much bemoaned.3 Having helped create the problem, the federal government should help find a solution. Finally, we believe that the federal government should lead because of the emerging consensus that brain power is the key to economic power and that to compete in the global economy the nation has to have a strategy for investing in people. We looked at the arguments behind this emerging consensus in Chapter 1; here we acknowledge that, in some ways, they are difficult to prove. But, if the principles recommended below are followed, and the caveats heeded, there is little harm in acting as though the consen

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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy sus finding is true and much risk to the future economic well-being of the nation and its citizens from failing to act until evidence to support the consensus view becomes incontrovertible. PRINCIPLES TO GUIDE FEDERAL ACTION We present here seven principles to guide the development of federal policies and programs. The federal government should refocus its attention, emphasizing the importance of building a postsecondary training system rather than continuing the piecemeal approach that has characterized past efforts. The biggest needs in postsecondary training are for systemic thinking about training policy and for structures that can tie together the different parts of training and let individuals move easily among them. There are no "one-size-fits-all" or "magic bullet" solutions in a country where the responsibility for training is highly decentralized and where the four types of training needed by workers are so different from one another that multiple approaches and programs are inevitable. Federal policies in the past have, as they should, paid attention to the differences. All forms of training are related, however, as parts of the process of initially preparing and continuously improving the nation's work force. Good public policy now requires the federal government to give attention to linking the parts together in ways that are coherent to both the workers and the employers who need to use them. While not reducing its commitment to fostering equity, the federal government should give special attention to the problem of ensuring quality, in response to the pervasive sense that the quality of American training is at best mixed and often poor. We have seen that too little is known about what is actually accomplished by training and what happens to those who are trained. Too little information about the outcomes and results of training is available to potential trainees and those who would hire them. The problem of ensuring quality is admittedly complex in a decentralized system, but the federal government can encourage improvement in the quality of postsecondary training in ways compatible with our traditions and institutions (see Chapter 6). Another way of improving the overall performance of the postsecondary training system is for the federal government to respond to the information that is available about what works and what doesn't and to make changes when there is evidence public programs do not seem to be helping those whose lives they are supposed to improve. Youth training programs are a

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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy good example. We are not arguing that the nation should abandon its concern for high-risk youth because current youth training does not appear to help participants. But decisions makers should acknowledge forthrightly that current approaches are not working and should aggressively explore new avenues that might help. The federal government should pursue changes in postsecondary training through policies that emphasize continuous improvement rather than radical reform. Much is unknown about what constitutes good practice in training for work and about the effects and outcomes of work-oriented training institutions and programs. At the same time, this is a vital period of innovation and analysis. At such a time, it is more appropriate for the federal government to encourage experimentation, evaluation, and policy evolution than to attempt a radical overhaul of its or the nation's approach to training activities. The approach we propose requires the federal government to think in new ways about how it manages public programs (see Chapter 8). Part of the federal role in continuously improving postsecondary training should be to evaluate the pace at which good practices are adopted and to determine what kinds of technical assistance and incentives might encourage faster diffusion. One specific area where the federal government can make an important contribution is in encouraging experimentation with and evaluation of promising training practices and structures used in other countries. One example of an approach more prevalent abroad is the use of workplaces rather than schools as training sites for those seeking qualifying training. Other countries also have connecting structures and standard-setting mechanisms that tie the training system together and that may lend themselves to adaptation in the United States. The federal government should recognize the key roles that states must play in the development of an effective training system. State governments are responsible "for structuring and managing a wide range of domestic programs in a way that makes it logical for them to have the lead role in policy implementation . . . . The services that need to be expanded and connected . . . are not the kinds of governmental activities that can be micromanaged from Washington" (Nathan, 1993:125). Moreover, states have demonstrated staying power and the ability to innovate effectively over the past decade in a number of related policy areas, including welfare reform, school reform, and economic development. Fuhrman (1993) cites a variety of actions that states have taken to promote systemic school reform, actions indicating that coherent policy making is being achieved

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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy even without fundamental change in the political system which has produced incoherence so often in the past. The federal government should seek to enhance the involvement and stake of employers in training policies and systems. Linkages between employers and the world of training need to be stronger, because the success of training ultimately depends on its usefulness in the workplace. Involving employers in systemic reform efforts is crucial to securing their attachment to the training system. Employers' interests are, though, not the only interests that must be served by training; their needs must be balanced with the needs of those who require not only firm-specific training but broader and more transferable skills as well. The federal government should resist the temptation to spread its resources so thinly that little or no impact is possible. With federal resources constrained by the budget deficit, it is more important than ever to focus available funds where they can do the most good. In addition, focusing resources on successful programs or programs likely to be successful can help (a) create true partners in support of the programs; (b) improve the reputation of training programs and thus reduce the stigmatization of participants, especially those in the second-chance programs; and (c) reduce the complexity created by the existence of dozens of (often very small) federal programs. "Do no harm": federal policy makers should recognize that it is possible for federal programs to hurt people and should be cautious about extending "help" in such circumstances. One way that federal programs can actually harm people can be seen in student loan programs. If individuals whose training offers little hope of giving them the capacity to pay back loans are allowed to borrow, they have a high chance of becoming defaulters. They risk often unpleasant pursuit by loan collectors, finding their credit records damaged, and losing future eligibility for student assistance for which they might otherwise have qualified. We believe that those who would design good public policy should avoid creating situations where individuals are likely to find themselves harmed by participating in a public program. NOTES 1.   Their capacity to pick up the initiative in a variety of policy arenas was in part the result of the modernization of their structure and institutions that occurred during the 1960s and 1970s. The weaknesses in state government that had contributed to the growing role of the federal government in domestic affairs from the Great Depression on were addressed. Guber

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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy     natorial terms of office were lengthened and bans on succession were lifted. Governors were given more power to appoint state officials; historically, many of them had been elected. Staffs were increased in size and became more professionalized. As a result of the Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims decisions by the Supreme Court in 1962 and 1964, respectively, state legislatures were reapportioned on a "one person, one vote" basis, reducing the influence of rural areas and increasing representation from cities and suburbs. States and localities strengthened their revenue systems by reducing their dependence on property taxes, using sales and income taxes more extensively, and raising tax rates. 2.   In 1862, the Morrill Act gave states public land or its equivalent to support the establishment of colleges whose teaching would focus on agriculture and the mechanic arts, rather than on the dominant classical curriculum of the day. From this grew a great system of so-called land-grant colleges and universities. In 1917, heeding changes brought about by an industrializing economy as well as fear of falling behind Germany, with whom the United States would soon be at war, the Smith-Hughes Act was passed, promising federal funds to high schools for vocational education in agriculture, trades and industry, and home economics. 3.   As Table 5.1 indicates, this tendency was checked briefly during the early years of the Reagan presidency, but the pause was only temporary. By 1991 there were more categorical federal grant-in-aid programs (543) than ever.