Apprenticeships Help Pave the Road to Success
Apprenticeships are back. As businesses and industries demand better trained employees, state lawmakers are responding by integrating apprenticeships into more comprehensive state education programs. The “learn-while-you-earn” model has gained traction across the country as a crucial tool to help states meet their workforce needs and educational goals.
The growing recognition that traditional, four-year degrees are not necessarily right for all students has helped fuel growth in apprenticeship programs. Since 2016, 30 states have passed 60 new laws relating to apprenticeships. Nearly half of them were passed in 2018.
The bills commonly create new training programs or establish new requirements for existing ones. Lawmakers have found a variety of ways to fund and develop programs at all levels. Several states have increased grant funding to support apprenticeships at state community and technical colleges. Others offer tax credits to businesses that welcome trainees.
In April last year, lawmakers in Iowa unanimously passed the Future Ready Iowa Act, which created a registered apprenticeship program and provided some scholarship funding.
A 2017 Kentucky law allows students in apprenticeship programs to receive funds from the existing Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, which offers merit-based aid and is funded by the Kentucky Lottery.
Colorado extended a program that provides funding to school districts for each student who completes a certificate, internship or pre-apprenticeship program or who takes an Advanced Placement computer science course.
Last year, Florida lawmakers allowed students to use credits earned from an apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship program to satisfy certain high school graduation requirements. And a 2017 Virginia law requires community colleges to develop policies and procedures for awarding academic credit to students who complete a registered apprenticeship credential.
States also are trying to raise students’ awareness of apprenticeship opportunities. Virginia lawmakers last year required schools to notify students and their parents of their availability. An Oklahoma law requires schools to include apprenticeships in students’ individualized career and academic planning.
The future of apprenticeships looks bright. They will likely continue to be an area of focus for legislators and policymakers.
Diversity Is the New Normal on Campus
As states seek ways to increase the number of students who earn a college degree or certificate, higher education institutions face new challenges in meeting those goals.
Today’s college student population is older, more often financially independent and increasingly diverse. Although nearly 60 percent of students on campus are still 18 to 24 years old and have recently graduated from high school, an increasing number don’t fit this traditional mold and may struggle to navigate a system not designed for their needs.
According to Danette Howard with the Lumina Foundation, an education research group, 38 percent of college undergraduates are 25 or older and more than one-quarter are parents.
Today, 47 percent of students are financially independent. But that doesn’t mean they are independently wealthy. In fact, nearly half of first-year students have incomes at or below the poverty line. A survey of the California University system found that 40 percent of students weren’t sure where their next meal would come from. Concerns over hunger have prompted some schools to open campus food banks.
Employment can help ease financial insecurity, but evidence shows that students who work more than 20 hours a week are less likely to complete their degree or certificate program. About 38 percent of students leave school within their first year because of additional family, work or financial obligations.
Student populations continue to diversify. Since the mid-1990s, Hispanic student enrollment has tripled and African-American enrollment has climbed by 72 percent. But the rates of degree attainment among these students still lag behind that of white students.
Many colleges have struggled to support their changing student bodies. Some now offer child care and hunger prevention programs, and others have increased financial aid programs targeting students who work or who have families. Still others offer flexible course scheduling, including classes on nights and weekends.
There’s little doubt that earning a degree or certificate still helps students in the long run. In 2017, the average family headed by a four-year college graduate earned $119,120—more than twice the amount for families headed by a high-school grad. As institutions try to meet statewide attainment goals, lawmakers will help them address the obstacles created by student poverty and changing student demographics.
Suicides Are Up
More than 47,000 Americans died by suicide last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death among people of all ages and the second-leading cause among people 10 to 24.
Research shows that most suicide attempts are preceded by warning signs such as extreme agitation or calm, withdrawal and excessive drinking or drug use.
Oregon and a handful of other states are providing suicide-prevention training for family doctors, emergency room practitioners and other medical professionals who care for young people, so they can be on the lookout for those at risk.
In 2018, at least 10 states—California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington—strengthened existing school-based suicide prevention laws, in most cases providing additional funding for mental health resources.
Slow Down, You Move Too Fast
The latest traffic safety data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show there were 673 fewer traffic deaths in the U.S. in 2017 than there were the year before.
That’s good news. Still, despite a slight decline in 2017, deaths of pedestrians, bicyclists and others not in cars make up 19 percent of all U.S. traffic fatalities, according to the traffic safety administration, compared with 14 percent in 2008.
With studies showing that reducing motor-vehicle speed can make the difference between life and death for vulnerable road users, at least seven states—Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon and Washington—have given local governments more flexibility in setting speed limits. The new laws let municipalities reduce speeds if certain conditions are met.
Colorado is the latest state to make such a move. Previously, localities could lower speed limits only if a traffic survey justified a change. Last year, however, lawmakers authorized counties, municipalities and residential neighborhoods to consider road characteristics, development, and pedestrian and bicycle activity, among other factors, when adjusting limits.
—Douglas Shinkle and Kevin Pula