For minority students looking to improve their career prospects, Registered Apprenticeship (RA) is one of the best bets.
The program, established by Congress in 1937, mixes paid on-the-job training with relevant school instruction in everything from plumbing to social work. Not only does RA allow students to “earn while they learn,” it pays off after graduation. According to the Department of Labor, 93% of students who complete their Apprenticeships are hired by the companies that they apprenticed with, at an average salary of $77,000. However, only 11% of schools with substantial minority enrollment, such as HBCUs and Tribal Colleges, offer these opportunities, according to a new report from the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI).
According to the report’s authors, the main reason is that, despite its success, RA has been obscure.
“I’m going to be honest,” said Dr. Marybeth Gasman, executive director of the CMSI and an author of the report, “I’ve been studying higher education since 1994. I didn’t know anything about it.”
“I think the focus at most colleges and universities has been on four-year degrees, and thus Registered Apprenticeship might not always be on the radar. Also, most people think Apprenticeship is only about the trades and might be steering people away from it as such. Lastly, the federal government hasn’t pushed Registered Apprenticeship much in the past,” she said in an email to Diverse.
The absence of RA at minority serving institutions (MSIs) is particularly ironic because their students are excellent candidates for those roles, according to Dr. Alice Ginsberg, Senior Research Specialist at the CMSI.
“It’s very well aligned with the MSI mission because MSIs tend to attract older students who are going back to school, who want to switch careers, and who are working full time and need to be paid," she said. "They also tend to attract students who live in the community where the school is and want to get jobs in that community. They tend to attract students who, because they come from those communities, really want to see those communities empowered and to diversify the pipeline of jobs in those communities."
MSIs are also uniquely equipped to help those students succeed in RA.
“MSIs are much more likely to offer wrap-around educational support,” said Gasman. “That’s one of the things that are really needed in Registered Apprenticeship because participants tend to be first generation from low-income families. If students have issues getting to their work location, or with childcare, [MSIs] are really out in front about taking care of those basic needs so that students can be successful.”
Although RA was rarely available at MSIs, the report found some notable successes. In several cases, MSIs were able to enhance the program by using their cultural knowledge. One example was the certified nursing assistant RA at Aaniiih Nakoda College, a Tribal College in Montana. In addition to medical training and field experience, participants were required to take American Indian studies classes as well as three credits of the Aaniiih or Nakoda language in order to better be able to serve the local community.
“This is something that, normally, an RA program wouldn’t do,” said Ginsberg.
However, the few MSIs that did have RA programs, experienced challenges.
“MSIs in general tend to be extremely underfunded and understaffed,” said Ginsberg. “These programs are hard to run. They require dedicated staff members, which MSIs often do not have. The other thing is that when staff members who are running [RA programs] leave, there’s often not a paper trail.”
The report also found that information on RA is often hard to find for students. Because each program is created by different stakeholders under different circumstances, there is rarely a consistent way to search for the available opportunities on MSI websites. Additionally, RA information is sometimes found in colleges’ workforce initiatives webpages, rather than the relevant discipline’s page, which may be confusing.
But help is on the way for MSIs looking to offer RA or make existing programs more available. Jobs for the Future, the non-profit that commissioned the report as part of a National Innovation Hub for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Registered Apprenticeship, plans to offer technical assistance to MSIs for their RA programs. As part of the project, Rutgers CMSI is planning a series of webinars, podcasts, and Twitter chats with individuals from the successful programs highlighted in the report.
Although increasing the availability of RA to minority students will take time, effort, and funding, the authors of the report are optimistic about progress. After all, Ginsberg points out, the MSIs already offering RA provide an excellent model.
“Even though it is a small number,” she said, “we’re incredibly encouraged by what we found.”