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Eight Strategies for Integrating Apprenticeship and College

In a time of partisan polarization, apprenticeship has maintained broad appeal. A recent national survey found that Americans viewed apprenticeship as favorably as four-year public universities, and that a large majority of respondents, both Democrats and Republicans, “strongly favored” more government spending to support apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is one of the only safe topics to discuss with your family over the holidays.

Its appeal is not hard to understand. Apprenticeship is a highly effective strategy for equipping individuals with valuable knowledge, skills, and work experience. A high percentage of apprenticeship completers transition directly into jobs with average earnings of over $50,000 per year. And they finish their program with zero student loan debt, compared to an average of $30,000 for today’s college students.

But so far, American apprenticeship has not grown to scale. In 2016, only around 500,000 people were enrolled in the Registered Apprenticeship system. Compare that to academic higher education, where 2 million new students enroll in community college every year. There are only a tiny number of apprentices compared to the number of students enrolled in college.

Part of the reason for this disparity is the failure of apprenticeship to connect to the higher education system. This has meant that successful apprentices don’t have access to the degrees that are necessary to advance in most careers. In fact, outside of the skilled trades, career advancement in the United States increasingly requires an associate’s or bachelor’s degree – which only colleges and universities can award.

Now, New America has released eight recommendations to more effectively tie together apprenticeship and higher education. Our recommendations fall into three categories: connecting higher education and apprenticeship systems, finance strategies for connected apprenticeships, and program design principles to ensure that modern apprenticeships match the pace of social and technological change. 

Connecting Systems:

1. Create a special class of student that is also an apprentice and a special class of postsecondary academic degree that includes the core features of apprenticeship, using the following definition: 

  • A “student-apprentice” meets the definition of “regular student” as defined by the Higher Education Act, 34 CFR Part 600 and “apprentice” as defined by the National Apprenticeship Act, 29 CFR Part 29.2.
  • A “Degree Apprenticeship,” is an apprenticeship program that meets the standards established in the National Apprenticeship Act 29 CFR Part 29.5 and the requirements of a postsecondary degree program as established by the relevant state education agency in the state where the program is delivered.

2. Incorporate the definitions for “student-apprentice” and “Degree Apprenticeships” into:

  • Relevant legislation including but not limited to the Higher Education Act, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the National Apprenticeship Act, the Trade Assistance Act, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
  • Federal and state data dictionaries and data collection systems including, but not limited to, the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems (IPEDS).

3. Develop a process for expanding the definition of “Registration Agency” in the National Apprenticeship Act, 29 CFR Part 29 to include state education agencies that meet a set of established criteria. Those criteria should include:

  • Formal recognition from the U.S. Secretary of Labor,
  • Demonstrated capacity to verify the standards of apprenticeship laid out in the National Apprenticeship Act, 29 CFR Part 29.
  • Demonstrated capacity to collect and report performance data on apprentices and apprenticeship programs.

Financing Strategies:

4. Create an annual discretionary grant program using H-1B Visa funds to support the development of Degree Apprenticeship programs. Grants will fund partnerships among employers and/or industry associations, institutions of higher education, and other intermediaries as appropriate.

5. Expand and reform the Federal Work-Study program to allow funds to cover the tuition and fees of “student-apprentices” as defined in the earlier section. 

6. Integrate apprenticeship into state financial aid and free college programs, adjusting eligibility criteria to include “student-apprentices,” particularly for apprenticeships that address key labor market need or make college free for adults. 

Designing Degrees:

7. Engage industry and professional associations in the design of competency-based curricula for the on-the-job learning components of Degree Apprenticeships that can be used across multiple employers and institutions. 

8. Engage the accreditor community, particularly specialty accreditors, to develop quality principles to guide the development of Degree Apprenticeships in high demand fields, in including healthcare and engineering.

You can find a recording of our December 6th release event here, and we hope you’ll join the conversation about Degree Apprenticeships (and our recommendations for creating more of them) using the hashtag #StudentApprentice.