I recently attended the National Skills Coalition Skills Summit in Washington, D.C. Even I was surprised by my key takeaway. Yes, there’s a great deal of uncertainty about President Trump’s agenda for postsecondary education, skills training, and workforce development. But, I left D.C. at least somewhat reassured that the skills agenda can move forward in this new environment. Here’s why:
- It’s clear that workforce and skills issues continue to have bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Our discussions with Hill staffers on both sides of the political aisle and presentations made at the Summit by members of Congress and others, confirm this. While major differences certainly are evident on the specifics of policy and funding, there are a number of issues on which agreement exists and progress might be made.
- Congress is establishing its own priorities and is moving forward on important education and workforce legislation — often with bipartisan sponsorship —without waiting for, or relying upon the executive branch for direction. Most important are the likely reauthorizations of the federal Higher Education Act and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act.
Of course, these signs may not be all good news. Again, they contain both opportunity and uncertainty. For example, the bill reauthorizations might include the following:
- The chance to modernize federal Pell grants and make them available to more working-age adult students.
- Broad support for expanding apprenticeship and internship programs for both youth and adults.
- The possibility of privatizing the federal student loan program, and the effect of such a change on the nation’s student loan debt crisis.
- Likely support for reversing the gains made over the last eight years in regulating the for-profit postsecondary education industry, and the attendant reduction in student/consumer information and protection.
So, I’m left with that strange sense of both uncertainty and opportunity. There is much left to be resolved. There is much work left to be done.