AuthorKim, Anne
PositionEligible training provider list

Advanced College is a for-profit school in South Gate, California, a Los Angeles suburb that's 95 percent Hispanic. Photos on Google Maps show a one-story beige building with a small parking lot. A banner on a car stereo store next door announces, "No Credit Needed." Two doors down, there's a crematorium, and across the street, a burger shop. Advanced College offers only seven programs, according to its website, including a credential in "computerized accounting" (tuition and fees: $13,573), a certificate in phlebotomy ($3,500), and a certificate in vocational nursing ($35,000).

The Department of Education's College Scorecard reports that the school had only 31 students and a mere 52 percent completion rate as of July. And despite the name, just 43 percent of Advanced College's students earn more than they would with just a high school degree. The school is under the dreaded "heightened monitoring" by the Education Department for "financial or federal compliance issues."

Nevertheless, Advanced College is among the approximately 1,000 "eligible training providers" as of July 22 (and more than 5,700 programs) approved by the state of California to receive training funds under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the federal government's largest workforce development program. Under the WIOA, state and local workforce agencies provide unemployed and underemployed workers "individual training accounts" (typically funded between $3,000 and $5,000) to pay for training from state-approved providers included on an "eligible training provider list"--an ETPL--required under federal law. (The only way an institution can get federal training dollars is to be on a state's ETPL.)

California's ETPL includes high-performing institutions, but they are hard to distinguish from lesser schools and questionable for-profits. These include the Stellar Career College in Modesto, whose students earn a not-so-stellar median annual income of $25,723, according to the College Scorecard, and UEI College-Gardena, where 93 percent of students take out federal loans and 22 percent are in default or delinquent. Also on California's list is American River College, a community college in Sacramento with a 30 percent graduation rate, and various branches of the Milan Institute, a for-profit cosmetology school that, among other things, offers a 75-week course in "barbering" for $18,781. (It, too, is under Education Department monitoring.)

These ETPLs are meant to ensure that workers qualifying for federal job training assistance have high-quality programs from which to choose. But as the California examples show, the lists fall short. As an instrument for giving workers "choice" while demanding "accountability" from training programs, ETPLs are a failure. And this is a major reason why federal job training efforts are much less effective than they could be.

Rather than ensuring practical, affordable training for in-demand jobs, the lists are a haven for expensive for-profits and fly-by-night concerns. Some of the nation's best training providers actually eschew being on an ETPL because of the bureaucratic hassles. At the same time, states' poor data collection (despite all the bureaucracy) means that potential trainees can't compare programs for the best investment of their time and federal aid. The Education Department's College Scorecard, for instance, is not cross-referenced on ETPL sites, depriving a would-be trainee of valuable information. Collecting reliable performance data from providers has been a long-standing challenge. Worst of all, the ETPL represents an archaic approach to workforce development--"train and pray"--where workers enroll in training programs that may or may not match up to the jobs available or impart the skills that employers want.

With employers starved for skilled talent, the federal workforce development system should provide workers with the skills to land in-demand jobs. Yet the number of workers enrolled in WIOA-funded training has been declining, indicating a broken system. The best place to start is to fix who's doing the training.

"The ETPL is a dinosaur," says Kris Stadelman, who recently retired as executive director of the NOVA Workforce Board in Silicon Valley and was also CEO of the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County in Washington. "It does not at all work in the way it was designed," she says. "And it should just be put to bed."

Congress appropriates nearly $3 billion a year to fund worker training programs via almost 2,400 "American Job Centers" authorized by the WIOA. Given this decentralized infrastructure, the ETPL was meant to provide workers with maximum flexibility in choosing a training program.


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