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Colleges Have Mixed Reactions to Workforce Reforms

By Charles Pekow

Would pending legislation make Workforce Investment Act programs a bigger boon for community colleges? A bill being debated in the Senate would create a special role for community colleges and knock out some red tape that has limited community college participation in federally funded job training. The House has approved the Job Training Improvement Act of 2005, which is now being considered in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee acknowledged that “current eligible training provider provisions include requirements that have proven to be overly burdensome” to community colleges faced with mountains of data to collect and forms to fill out. One major imposition: colleges had to file data on all students in training programs, not just those getting WIA funding. Congress had intended to create a list of eligible training providers so workers getting services could choose schools. But the idea backfired when institutions wouldn’t participate or limited the number of WIA students they took because of all the trouble.

The legislation would leave it up to states to set requirements for trainers and reporting. But states would have to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act when setting their criteria.

The Job Training Improvement Act would create a $250 million community-based job-training demonstration project to provide education and training and place graduates in jobs through one-stop delivery systems. Only community colleges could get the grants. When they apply for grants, they’d have to specify an industry for which they plan to train.

Schools would apply directly to the Department of Labor for grants. In making their case, they’d have to examine local labor-market conditions, including the need for job training for a particular “high-growth, high-demand industry.” They’ll also have to work with local workforce-investment boards, industry and one-stop delivery systems.

The bill would let the Department of Labor issue rules requiring that trainees participate in evaluations.

The bill also includes a Bush proposal to allow states and localities, with permission from the Department of Labor, to offer new Personal Reemployment Accounts of up to $3,000. People who lose their jobs could choose the services they use to help them find jobs, including community colleges. The bill doesn’t specify a funding level.

The Bush administration supports the bill, and is pleased that it includes the president’s ideas. But the Office of Management and Budget issued a statement saying that “the administration is concerned, though, that, without consequences for states that do not meet their agreed-on adult education performance levels, (the Job Training Improvement Act) would not hold states accountable for improving the performance of those programs.”

And while community colleges seem to be in favor of the paperwork reduction, some say the bill only addresses part of the participation problem. 

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