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Employers and Higher Education Community Team Up to Support College Completion | Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Phone: +1.206.709.3400
Email: media@gatesfoundation.org

SEATTLE -- Industry groups, corporate executives, government officials and education advocates will meet this week in Washington, D.C. to discuss how they can create affordable, practical education pathways that allow more young adults to earn a postsecondary credential that gives them a competitive edge in the workforce.

The convening, an “earn & learn” working group hosted by the non-profit Corporate Voices for Working Families, will be attended by senior staff from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Verizon, Marriott International, Northrop Grumman, CVS/Caremark, and Pacific Gas and Electric among others. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Lumina Foundation for Education also will attend.

The convening follows the Labor Department’s $108 million budget request to create a Workforce Innovation Fund to pursue similar “earn and learn” strategies. The request gives momentum to education programs and policies that enable students to concurrently work and earn their way toward a degree or credential.

“We need to generate discussion about the financial and life barriers that keep many young adults from completing college and beginning a rewarding career,” said Donna Klein, President & Executive Chair of Corporate Voices for Working Families. “The goal of our ‘earn and learn’ working group is to form cooperative relationships and identify the types of blended education-career models that provide working students the support they need to graduate while giving employers a well-qualified talent pipeline.”

As the costs of higher education continue to rise, these no- or low-cost school-work options make college affordable to students who are working while pursuing an education. Research from both Demos and Public Agenda reveals that most students who quit college do so because they can’t juggle the demands of working and going to school at the same time.

Both the U.S. Department of Labor’s budget request and the formation of the “earn & learn” working group are in step with recent investments made by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2009, the foundation invested $3.1 million to study the link between higher education and labor markets needs, identify best practices, and develop new programs.

To advance this work, the foundation is partnering with the following organizations:

  • Corporate Voices for Working Families

    to identify and test which postsecondary programs best allow young adults to earn credentials while working. The funding also allowed for testing to show how successful programs can be replicated.
  • The Center for Energy Workforce Development

    to evaluate a half dozen states for opportunities in the energy industry sector so that they can begin to foster completion among young adults in programs that combine education and work experiences.
  • National Association for Manufacturing/Manufacturing Institute

    to deploy their new industry certification system with four community college partners in Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, and Washington, and then replicate the program within those states.
  • Workforce Strategy Center

    to produce a report on employer engagement in postsecondary education to identify programs that support the efforts of young adult workers to complete their educations.
  • Brookings Institution

    in support of the Federal Data Project, which will facilitate linkages among labor market, employer, and higher education data to enable more informed decisions by local, state, and federal education and workforce organizations. In April, the project will issue a visioning report outlining how to connect higher education to labor market data.
  • The Conference Board

    to build compelling cases for businesses and employers to invest in higher education opportunities for young adult workers.
  • Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

    to study the link between education, career qualifications, and workforce demands. This summer, the Center will issue its first national jobs report which projects jobs and educational demands through 2018.
Ensuring that more young people have the opportunity to complete college is crucial to our country’s economic growth and stability. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, almost half of all U.S. jobs will require college-level skills by 2018.

“The recent economic crisis and high rate of unemployment have only reinforced the importance of an education beyond high school,” said Hilary Pennington, Director of Education, Postsecondary Success and Special Initiatives at the Gates Foundation. Blended education-career programs that lead to degree completion and directly into high-demand, high-wage career fields will provide more students with an affordable means to compete in today’s global economy.

These employer-education partnerships are part of the Gates Foundation’s efforts to double the number of low-income students who earn a postsecondary degree or credential by age 26. Reversing the nation’s low college completion rate will take solutions that target low-income student-workers who are most likely to confront the obstacles and financial hardships that prevent them from earning a degree or credential.

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