Two issues in higher education attracted a considerable amount of attention in June 2018. The newest is an announcement by the Trump Administration to merge the Departments of Labor and Education into a single Department of Education and the Workforce, The older issue pertains to reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, a piece of legislation that is many years overdue. Some observations regarding these two matters are as follows:
Creation Of A Department Of Education And The Workforce
Many students and their families today accumulate a small mountain of debt in paying for a college education. Long gone are the days when a student could bag groceries at a supermarket on weekends and find a job in the summer that achieved sufficient earnings to cover all educational costs for the upcoming academic year and still leave over some dollars for personal expenses. As the price of an education began increasing every year to soaring heights in both public and private institutions, parents began clamoring for an assurance that suitable employment and salaries awaited students after they graduated.
Another force of a different nature has led to assessments of the adequacy of the link between schools and subsequent employment opportunities. The economy became more global in nature, which means that the U.S. has to be much more competitive in efforts to stay on top in areas involving science and technology. Evidence that graduates of domestic institutions are not being produced in adequate numbers to fill those kinds of positions is shown by the necessity of issuing special visas to individuals from other nations to address the needs of employers seeking college graduates with the proper mix of knowledge and skills.
These two factors involving the high cost of education and the desirability of producing graduates who can be employed gainfully upon completing school provide a rationale for exploring the possible creation of stronger connections between federal organizations that focus on labor and education issues. Portions of the higher education community already have adopted that posture as demonstrated by linking college and the workplace through internships, career-placement services, and workforce-development efforts that are situated to address employer needs and demands.
What the Administration is proposing in broad terms is that the new Department would be able to oversee education, skill development, workplace protection, retirement security, and also address the skills shortage facing many industries. An intended result of the merger is to combine all functions of the two Departments, along with more than 40 workforce development programs that span 15 agencies to create a greater alignment among components of the education-to-career pipeline. Governmental restructuring is never an easy task. Partisan differences provide a certain guarantee that efforts to create a combined Education and Labor department will be an uphill battle.
Reauthorization Of The Higher Education Act
A two-act absurdist-tragicomic play called Waiting for Godot by Irish Nobel Laureate Samuel Beckett was panned by fellow countryman Vivian Mercier as a dramatization in which “nothing happens, twice.” That observation occasionally comes to mind when considering the fate of efforts on Capitol Hill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). A decade has elapsed since the HEA last was reauthorized. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor & Pensions, indicated that his committee will not produce legislation to reauthorize this important legislation in 2018. Many contentious points separate Republicans and Democrats over key issues, such as overhauling the federal student aid system.
Other Articles from TRENDS June 2018
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