At the most general level, those who support workforce education argue that it is an increasingly attractive way to prepare Americans for meaningful and financially rewarding careers. They suggest that greater federal support is warranted because of the benefits to the individuals who enroll in the programs, to businesses, and to the nation generally.
The Case for Greater Federal Support
Benefits to Graduates
Supporters argue that three important benefits for those who graduate from these programs justify increased federal support.
First, they argue that research shows that skills education increases graduates’ earnings. Proponents cite a range of studies finding that those who attain a certificate from a program that prepares students for a given occupation have higher rates of employment and earn roughly 10% more than those with only a high school diploma. Advocates further cite studies showing that graduates themselves see their career education program as more personally and financially rewarding. (See “What the Evidence Says” below)
Benefits to Businesses
Proponents argue that employers benefit significantly from CCL programs. Particularly with today’s worker shortages, the main benefit for business is a pipeline of skilled and productive employees. The United States now has 8.8 million job openings, but only 6.4 million unemployed workers.
Supporters note that a growing number of employers are prioritizing skills over degrees attained. They point to an Advance CTE report that found that 92% of surveyed employers were in favor of increased public funding for career and technical education.
Benefits to the Nation
Finally, proponents argue that greater federal support for CCL will generate four important benefits for the nation. First, they suggest it would create more jobs and boost economic prosperity even beyond those who graduate from these programs. Democrats are more optimistic than Republicans about an active federal role in improving the prosperity of individuals and families. Still, conservative and liberal economists agree that increasing individual productivity is one of the most fundamental drivers of a growing economy. When we produce more with the same investment of time and money, the economy grows, new jobs are created, and everyone prospers. A core reason the United States is the leading economy in the world, economists agree, is because its workers are some of the most productive.
Since the GI Bill, bipartisan agreement on the economic wisdom of investing in Americans’ productivity has been the foundation for significant federal support for college education. Supporters argue that workforce development programs can be a similarly sound investment in improving the nation’s productivity. In fact, many argue that the return on investment for career-connected learning is often even better than for college. On one side of the economic return equation, skills development programs are much shorter and less expensive for the student. On the other side of the equation, proponents suggest that these programs can still lead to substantial increases in earnings and productivity, particularly since they are so directly focused on preparing individuals for the work they will do and on industries where demand for workers is high.
In fact, supporters argue that federal policy that focuses disproportionately on support for college education to the neglect of workforce development contributes to income inequality. They suggest that simply by supporting skills education proportionately to its worth we can provide more Americans with opportunities for upward economic mobility through their own merit.
Some argue that investing in career development is wiser policy than forgiving the student loans of those with four-year and graduate degrees. They point to evidence confirming that those with college and graduate degrees have higher earning power than those without those degrees, putting most in a reasonable position to repay the loans as they agreed to do. Subsidizing those with higher earning power by forgiving student loans, critics of the program argue, increases income inequality. To qualify under the Biden Administration’s student loan forgiveness plan that was blocked by the Supreme Court, individuals must earn less than $125,000 and married couples less than $250,000.
The causal connection between the two, supporters argue, is growing. The rise of new technologies in a global marketplace has created higher demand for skilled labor, and those positions come with higher wages. Supporters argue that these realities of the high-tech, global economy make skills development an increasingly timely and effective means of addressing rising income inequality in the US.