Some New(ish) Federal Adult Education Data to Chew On

UPDATED 9/22/14: The first chart below was the wrong chart, although this didn’t make any difference in terms of the point I was trying to make about total enrollment.

While preparing for a panel discussion tomorrow, I was reviewing the latest National Reporting System data on adult learners served by Title II of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA)—now reauthorized as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

I haven’t had a chance to update the “Primer” page on this site in a while. One of the things I need to update is the “Participants by Program Type” table, which also includes the total number of adults served. We now have data for the 2012-13 program year. This may not be that new—I just hadn’t had a chance to look to see if had been updated. Anyway, the numbers are not good:

2013-14 NRS Enrollment Data

Source: Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, National Reporting System

You can see from this table that overall enrollment numbers are down once again, from 1.8 million to 1.7 million, a drop of almost 111,000 people. This is (or should be) really distressing, and again raises the question: will the new WIOA legislation do anything to stem the decline in adult education enrollment that has been occurring over the last several years? A lot of this decline has to do with funding, and the funding picture for WIOA is not good. (I realize that some of this enrollment could have been picked up by private, non-federally funded programs or via self-study, but I know of no data to support that. But I strongly suspect that enrollment in privately funded programs is not rising enough to offset the decline in WIA Title II enrollment.)

Here’s another interesting piece of data that is important to keep in mind when discussing the additional emphasis on employment skills in WIOA:

NRS Labor Market 2012-13

Source: Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, National Reporting System

As you can see from this table, during the most recent program year, 2012-13, almost a third of all adults participating in WIA Title II were not in the labor force. We need to know more about this population. Do we? Can anyone point me to a source? I don’t know, for example, how many of them are likely to be permanently out of the labor force. Or how many have simply given up (and of those who have given up, to what extent they identify skills issues as being the reason why). I know that during this same program year, about 60,000+ of adult learners were served over the age of 60, and presumably a lot of those folks are out of the workforce for good. Anyway, we likely need a lot of additional research here. In the meantime, it’s important to bear in mind that a significant number of people enrolling in a WIA-funded program are not part of the labor force.

The Real Problem With WIOA

I’m still confused over why the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is already considered an abject failure because it didn’t do anything about the predatory lending practiced by institutions covered by an entirely different piece of legislation, but in the meantime, while watching this, I was pleased to see someone mention, even if somewhat obliquely (and then completely ignored by the host), the one clear aspect of WIOA (and its predecessor, the Workforce Investment Act) that really does work to the advantage of those schools that rip people off: the fact that there isn’t nearly enough funding in WIOA to provide quality training to people who are eligible for the program. If people had better options, maybe they wouldn’t be in a position to be taken advantage of by these terrible schools.

I’ve written about the completely inadequate funding levels for adult education in WIOA here. I’m not an expert by any stretch on the job training programs covered in WIOA, but I gather from what little I do know that the funding for these programs is inadequate as well. If people think that it’s the WIOA-funded one-stops that should be counseling people about higher ed student loans, then in their next breath it night be good to talk a little about whether one-stop staff capacity is sufficient—or sufficiently knowledgable—to do this, and if not, what kind of money it might take to  make that happen.

Again, I’m really interested in how workforce investment advocates might do more to stop the higher education scam artists that prey on the unemployed and unskilled, but most of the discussion over the last week or so hasn’t been very clear about the differences between higher eduction and WIOA, how they actually work together, and how they could work together better, given such a restrictive funding environment. Without such clarity, it’s hard to know which policy choices, if any, will make a difference. This is one area where your comments would be much appreciated!

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.

Funding Still an Issue

Lauren Eyster, writing for the Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog, makes an important point about the WIOA bill that was passed by the House last night:

What WIOA does not do is return overall workforce development funding to pre-sequestration levels immediately. Funding would be increased annually until 2020, but states and local areas will continue to be asked to do more with less.

Gloomy as that sounds, this assessment is actually a bit on the optimistic side. The problem is not that the bill won’t restore workforce funding to pre-sequestration levels immediately, it’s that the WIOA bill itself will not restore funding to pre-sequestration levels at all (let alone increase funding significantly), despite those increases authorized in the bill, unless Congressional appropriators actually appropriate funding at those authorized amounts. And unless Congress raises the existing budget caps and eliminates the mandatory cuts under sequestration (which otherwise, don’t forget, will return in 2016) there isn’t much chance they will. If you’re a glutton for punishment, I wrote an excruciatingly long and tedious post about this a month ago.

I do think WIOA better positions advocates to make the case for increased federal funding, but prospects for increased funding for the programs covered under this bill will continue to be at the mercy of a Republican-dominated Congress for the foreseeable future—a Congress that, if anything, will press for further cuts to non-defense discretionary programs next year. (And remember also that there is a significant possibility that Republicans will control both chambers next year.)

The reason I’m being such a party pooper is because I think it’s important that folks on the ground who depend on the programs covered under WIOA are clear on this point. While the bill includes what many people feel are welcome policy changes to the federal workforce investment system, WIOA’s passage last night isn’t going to solve their biggest problem, which is the lack of adequate funding. I can’t speak for every program in WIOA, but for those of us in adult education, in particular, that remains our biggest challenge.