“This Election Day, exit polling showed that voters’ overwhelming motivations were economic worries. The next Congress has a voter mandate to work with the White House to move quickly to enact policies that will lower costs for families. While lowering daily expenses in the short-term are needed, true economic recovery must also include pathways for people to earn the education, training, and development opportunities that will lead to a sustaining wage and economic mobility. This, too, must be high on the next Congress’ to-do list, particularly for Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) as they take their new leadership roles on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Access to learning after high school has never been equal or equitable in the United States. This leaves too many out of the American Dream and without the chance for economic stability and mobility, especially in times of crisis. The pandemic and the resulting economic shifts has only exacerbated this; more than 40 percent of those who lost their jobs in 2020 were those earning less than $40,000 per year. Moreover, those with a high school degree or less were displaced at nearly three times the rate as those with a bachelor’s degree.
Notably, 39 million Americans went to college but left without a degree–39 million Americans who are lacking a key to economic mobility by not finishing college, who invested in their higher education but can’t reap the benefits a diploma brings. This is the reality for nearly 1 in 5 Americans. Worse, this number has spiked since COVID-19, rising nearly 10 percent. (Another way to view this population: colleges and universities fail to graduate 40 percent of their students.)
In addition, 70 percent of today’s students don’t fit the stereotype of a young 20 something playing frisbee on the quad. Many of today’s students are working adults who are pursuing higher education — through programs and credentials, as well as traditional degrees — while also balancing work and family obligations. We need real investments in skills development, including by expanding federal student aid to high quality, short-term training programs setting workers, businesses, and our economy up for success.
The new Congress has an opportunity to modernize our approach to learning and working. For too long, we’ve approached this as a binary choice: you’re in college or you have a job. But today, a strengthened economy demands rethinking how we best prepare future workforces. To start, we must have a ‘yes, and’ ethos where learning is valued regardless of where it happens – a classroom, an apprenticeship, on the job, and where the path to and through learning and work is not linear. This in turn will foster stronger interconnectedness between employers and educators – especially with this nation’s 1,043 community colleges.”