Apprenticeships and Community Colleges: Do They Have a Future Together?
- Apprenticeships, which combine on-the-job training and academic coursework, are often considered the gold standard of workforce training and have attracted substantial bipartisan support.
- Apprentices who complete their programs secure employment at high rates and regularly earn family-sustaining wages. In 2017 there were 533,607 active apprentices across 22,488 apprenticeship programs.
- Community colleges—institutions that already represent one of the nation’s most important venues for career and technical education—are presently considering what role they can play in satisfying the growing interest in apprenticeship programs.
- Community colleges face cultural, organizational, and financial challenges in delivering and expanding apprenticeships, including developing relationships with employers, registering programs with the US Department of Labor, and facing potential competition from emerging entities called apprenticeship service providers.
Most of today’s college students view having success in the workplace, earning a decent salary, and having a fulfilling career as key reasons for pursuing higher education. This sentiment is echoed by governors, state legislators, and higher education leaders who are looking at the labor market success of graduates to evaluate how well postsecondary institutions are preparing students to join the workforce and contribute to the economy. However, there is a growing belief that colleges are not adequately preparing students for the jobs and careers needed in the 21st century and that a substantial gap exists between the training and education America’s college graduates receive and the skills today’s labor market demands.
Of the many options being actively discussed to bridge the divide, apprenticeship programs are attracting widespread bipartisan support. Apprenticeships are often considered the “gold standard” of workforce education. They are formal training programs during which successful applicants are paid while being trained on the job by experienced workers or mentors. Acquiring new skills in the workplace is accompanied by related training, typically provided by an educational institution such as a community college or a trade organization such as a union. In the past two years of his administration, President Barack Obama made apprenticeships a priority, directing well over $250 million to support apprenticeship programs. In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to increase federal funding from $90 million per year to $200 million.
Public two-year community colleges are already central to the nation’s career and technical education system, granting hundreds of thousands of occupationally oriented certificates and technically focused associate degrees. Many community college leaders have welcomed the administration’s call for apprenticeship programs, and some have already shown themselves adept at working with the Department of Labor’s registered apprenticeship programs. But the overwhelming majority of community colleges have a ways to go before they can meaningfully contribute to the number of apprenticeships that so many politicians and analysts argue the nation needs.
In this report we explore how community colleges could play a more active role in growing the number of apprenticeships nationwide, a role that would contribute to resolving the current mismatch between what postsecondary institutions produce and what employers need. We begin with a brief summary of the past and current state of apprenticeships and the role apprenticeships play in other countries. We then turn to the challenges faced by community colleges interested in sponsoring apprenticeship programs and what reforms might help community colleges overcome the internal and external obstacles in their way to expansion. We conclude with the role private apprenticeship service providers may play as competitors to community colleges interested in apprenticeship programs.
The overwhelming majority of today’s college students consider succeeding in the workplace, earning a decent salary, and enjoying a fulfilling career as the main goal of higher education.1 Governors, state legislators, and higher education leaders are concerned about the quality of their workforce and are looking at the labor market success of graduates to evaluate how well postsecondary institutions are preparing students to achieve those objectives.2 In recent years, there has been a growing belief that colleges are not adequately preparing students for the jobs and careers needed in the 21st century and that a substantial gap exists between the training and education America’s college graduates receive and the skills today’s labor market demands.3
Of the many options being actively discussed to bridge that divide, apprenticeship programs are attracting widespread bipartisan support. Apprenticeships are often referred to as the “gold standard” of workforce education.4 Part of this is because, on average, apprentices tend to outearn nonparticipants, and some apprenticeship programs have been found to yield better results than other training methods, particularly for middle-skills jobs.5 In the past two years of his administration, President Obama made apprenticeships a priority, directing well over $250 million to support apprenticeship programs.6 In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to further increase federal funding from $90 million per year to $200 million.7 Following that executive order, Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta assembled the Apprenticeship Expansion Task Force to develop recommendations to transform American apprenticeships from a system dominated by construction trades and unions to a system that fits the nation’s modern, technology-based economy.8
In May 2018, the task force released its final report, calling for the development of a “separate, streamlined, industry-led” apprenticeship program, or “industry-recognized apprenticeships.”9 A chief component of these industry-recognized apprenticeships would feature nationally portable, industry-recognized credentials. The task force recommended that quality and accountability requirements remain in place for these apprenticeships and that federal funding criteria be updated to ensure equal treatment of registered apprenticeships and industry-recognized apprenticeships. That the task force calls for a new and separate apprenticeship program, rather than fixing the current system, might suggest there are structural limitations in the existing apprenticeship program that inhibit it from modernizing.
Clearly, apprenticeships are attracting a great deal of attention at the federal and state levels, but they represent only a sideshow compared to the number of other postsecondary credentials awarded each year. In 2015 there were 23,578 persons who completed a civilian apprenticeship program. This is a far cry from the 961,000 one- and two-year certificates awarded in 2015. The number of certificates awarded is up 35 percent over the previous 10 years, while the number of apprenticeship completers has remained stagnant over the same time period.10 Of the certificates awarded, research suggests that many programs in technical fields can lead to high earnings, but other certificate programs do not increase average earnings.11
Similarly, over one million associate degrees were awarded in 2015, a 45.5 percent increase over the previous decade.12 While about half of these were awarded to students who desired to transfer to traditional, four-year degree programs, the other half were primarily awarded in career and technically oriented fields. Obviously, students are voting with their feet as more of them are seeking alternative routes to enter the labor market. With students continuing to flock to technical training programs through associate degrees and certificates, should community colleges add apprenticeships to that mix as the current administration has suggested?13
Most of the career-oriented credentials are awarded by public two-year community colleges, making them central to America’s career and technical education system.14 Not surprisingly, community colleges have officially welcomed the administration’s call for apprenticeship programs, and some have shown themselves adept at working with the registered apprenticeship programs that are administered through the Department of Labor (DOL).15 But given how small the number of apprenticeships awarded each year is compared to the number of certificates and degrees they grant, community colleges, in spite of their recently expressed willingness, clearly have a ways to go before they can meaningfully contribute to the expanded number of apprenticeships that so many politicians and analysts argue the nation needs.
In this report we explore how community colleges might play a more active role in growing the number of apprenticeships nationwide, a role that would contribute to resolving the current mismatch between what postsecondary institutions produce and what employers need. We begin our analysis with a brief summary of the past and current state of apprenticeships because, despite the hype, so little is commonly known about them. Afterward we discuss the conditions under which community colleges could play a larger role in their expansion.
You may also like
CECU In a letter shared with Education Dive, the department claims separating the university was intended “to drive shareholder value.” Grand Canyon has pushed back.
Contact: Debbie Ogilvie, Owner DebbieOgilvie92@gmail.com Ph: (714) 469-7992 11617 Wake Circle Cypress, CA 90630