New Dual Enrollment Policy Could Open Doors for Skilled Workers

modern building looking upJust this week, the United States Department of Education announced an initiative that manufacturers have been touting for a long time: Dual enrollment programs.

A dual enrollment program allows students to enroll in post-secondary coursework while remaining enrolled in high school, which often gives non-traditional students the opportunity to begin a skilled apprenticeship immediately upon high school graduation.

“High school students who dual enroll can bypass the typical four-year college route to receive employable skills that can lead to a high-paying job right out of high school,” said Jim Warren, director of education for the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA). “It’s an effective course of study that can jump start a skilled labor career in a lucrative field that continues to experience a shortage of workers.” As head of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Warren certainly understands the value, and the struggle, associated with attracting and retaining skilled laborers.

At Distefano, we’re proud to be a part of a progressive tradition of manufacturing in Nebraska, which also includes attracting and retaining the next generation of thinkers and dreamers; that’s why we support Dream It, Do It. However, the case remains that programs often struggle to reach and train minority or nontraditional students for skilled careers, a huge loss of labor power for manufacturers who could really use it.

According to the Dept. of Education, fewer than 10 percent of children born in the bottom quartile of household incomes attain a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared to over 50 percent in the top quartile, and many high school students—especially those from low-income backgrounds—lack access to the rigorous coursework and support services that help prepare them for success in college.

Hence, the DOE’s announcement is potentially life-changing for many minority students without equal opportunity to pursue manufacturing careers.

The Department of Education has invited 44 post-secondary institutions to participate in an experiment: For the first time, students taking dual enrollment courses can access Federal Pell Grants as early as high school, meaning that an estimated 10,000 high school students will have the opportunity to access almost $20 million in grant money. Almost 80% of the selected schools are community colleges, and while none of the institutions are in Nebraska (yet!), there are quite a few in the Midwest.

As Anya Kamenetz explains on the nprED blog, “The institutions have proposed programs that offer not just academics, but supports like advising and counseling, plus a ‘clear pathway’ onward to a degree. That means students won’t just be accumulating general education credits at random, but courses specially designed to contribute to a degree program. Many of the programs emphasize local workforce needs, such as advanced manufacturing, welding, aviation, computer-related disciplines or health sciences.”

This means:

  • Non-traditional students will have a head-start on school.
  • High school students can elect to receive vocational education as well as traditional high-school education.
  • Students from low-income backgrounds and first-generation college students will see improved academic outcomes when participating in dual enrollment programs.
  • Advanced manufacturers will have a younger and more highly skilled workforce to hire.

If you’re interested in learning more about dual enrollment, how it could affect advanced manufacturing, and how this initiative aims to provide more skilled workers for positions in manufacturing like welding, check out the United States Department of Education Press release. If you want to learn more about what it’s like to work at Distefano, check out this career snapshot of one of our press brake welders.

photo credit: Cooper Union via photopin (license)

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