In The News: Report: Focus Funding on Colleges Best Able to Help Unemployed

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Report: Focus Funding on Colleges Best Able to Help Unemployed

By Kery Murakami

As higher education faces an uncertain future amid a global pandemic and calls for greater racial equality, the nation’s governors should chart a long-range strategy that stimulates the economy, avoids the boom-and-bust cycle of funding colleges, and avoids mistakes that have left many behind, write experts from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and a policy consulting firm.

In a policy brief released Thursday, the experts on state higher education funding called on governors to create broad task forces to develop plans that would not be “a short-term ‘fix-it’ but rather a long-term commitment — one likely to span more than a single election cycle.”

Those plans should be guided by a number of principles to improve lives, including investing in institutions best suited to serve the unemployed and those left behind in the recovery from the Great Recession, wrote Joni Finney, a professor at Penn, and Scott Pattison, a senior fellow with the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy. Kristin D. Hultquist, founding partner of HCM Strategists, and Martha J. Snyder, the public policy and advocacy consulting firm’s senior director, also co-authored the report.

To help the unemployed, states should focus on high-quality, short-term workforce certificate programs as well as associate and bachelor’s degree programs at regional colleges and universities, community and technical colleges, and, in some states, independent nonprofit institutions, the report said.

“Programs should be tailored to upskill individuals to return to their same field of work, or, for those whose jobs have disappeared permanently, to train and educate them for other fields,” they wrote.

To serve low-income families, states also should support colleges with the most affordable certificate and degree programs that are of high quality and tied to the job market, according to the report.

The paper also called for freezing tuition at regional public colleges, while tying it to rising median income for research universities.

Instead of raising prices for students, the experts also called for finding alternative funding sources for higher education, including the creation of public-private partnerships, tapping into state reserves and loaning state funds to institutions.

Historic unemployment, “coupled with the extensive social unrest in response to persistent, systemic racial discrimination, have put state and local policymakers under increasing pressure for meaningful reform,” the paper said. “Leadership in this time of crisis requires bold action that acknowledges historical barriers and prioritizes supports for the recently unemployed, students of color, low-income individuals, adults and those populations impacted by COVID-19.”

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