Going After the Scammers

(Updated Below)

The New York Times story yesterday on the Workforce Investment Act is related to the post I published yesterday. I realize there are political and strategic challenges associated with calling out public officials when they make possibly disingenuous calls for more job training. But calling out scammers like those described in the Times should be much easier. They should not only be called out for what they are, but workforce development advocates should consider aggressive, proactive initiatives aimed at taking them down. It’s the best way to distance the good stuff from the scammers. Defensive responses—sure-these-guys-are-bad-but-look-at-all-the-good-things-that-WIA-does-and-it’s-not-my job-anyway-its’-the-states-and-being accountable-is-hard etc.—is probably not going to be good enough to stem the erosion in confidence that the presence of these outfits have on the whole system.

UPDATE 8/19/14 11:15 AM: By the way, I largely agree with my colleague Mary Alice McCarthy’s criticism of the Times article, (and would be foolish not too, as her knowledge of this subject is about as good as there is), and recommend anyone interested in the subject go read it. In particular, I think she’s right that the Times does not do nearly enough to make it clear that the student indebtedness problem has to do with problems in our higher education system, rather than WIA. And since that is the entire point of the article suggested in the headline and subheading—that WIA is leaving people in debt—that’s a pretty glaring mistake.

But I don’t think that this takes anything away from my point above. I don’t think the people scammed by Daymar College and their ilk really distinguish between our higher education system and our workforce development system, and I imagine that they would find debates about who is at fault to be something between irrelevant and irritating. They were out of work and needed help, and got screwed. In such cases the WIA system may not be at fault, but the entry point for these folks may have been WIA. I think workforce development advocates can do more than just say, ‘this is a higher education problem, not ours.’

Under both the old WIA and the new WIOA, one of the success measures for a program includes transitioning participants to postsecondary education and training. Clearly for the people profiled in the Times, that transition to postsecondary hasn’t worked out too well. So OK, not WIA’s fault. My point is that it might be a helpful for workforce proponents in general to do more to identify and do something about these terrible programs, whatever legislative authority it falls under. Of course, how to do so, I have no idea. (McCarthy suggests higher ed reformers look to the recently passed WIOA legislation as a model for higher education reform.) What do others think?

UPDATE 8/25/14: Bob Lanter, Executive Director of the California Workforce Association raises similar objections to the Times piece in this press release.