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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/22/10

Student Loan Reform, Good for Workers Too

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Message Armand Biroonak
As Congress returns to Washington, the Campaign for America's Future calls on the Senate to finish what the House started, and pass Student Loan reform to end billion dollar bank subsidies and invest in students. Passage of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) will not only benefit students though, the legislation includes key provisions to help workers too. SAFRA will provide billions to community colleges and create worker training programs that bring together business, labor and community organizations allowing workers to retool or gain skills in preparation for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Worker training has always been critical to the success of American workers' and America's industries. However, now more than ever, record unemployment and shifting industry demands are making skills training extremely important for workers to access. The need to invest in worker training programs is emphasized in CAF's recent report, "The Bridge To The New Economy: Worker Training Fills The Gap" that highlights how a skills gap in the U.S. harms economic recovery because too few workers have the skills, particularly middle skills, needed to match the jobs available today, and the growing industries of tomorrow. Middle skills require not a bachelor's degree, but some form of post-secondary certification or associate's degree. Industries with emerging middle skill jobs include the health care, information technology, green energy and advanced manufacturing sectors.

Skills training are best gained, though not exclusively, at our nation's 1,200 community colleges. In fact, the number of Americans attending community colleges for various skills and certification has been on the rise. Between 1987 and 2007, the percentage of Americans granted post-secondary certificates and associate's degrees at community colleges more than doubled.

SAFRA addresses this demand with sorely needed funding, giving community colleges a big boost and by expanding worker training partnerships between community colleges and the private sector. Partnerships are particularly important because they provide a career pathway for workers, matching learned skills to a job in hand after training.

Americans know that greater skills are needed to compete and land a job in today's tough market. According to a December 2009 CBS News poll, when asked "Compared to 20 years ago, do you think the types of jobs now available in the U.S. require different backgrounds and skills than they used to 20 years ago, or do the jobs available now require about the same backgrounds and skills?", Americans responded overwhelming that the demands on the labor market have indeed changed:

Different: 89%
About the Same: 10%

And employers equally report trouble filling positions despite a record number of applicants because of a gap between the available skills of applicants and the required skills of an opening. According to a July 2009 survey by Business Roundtable, more than 60 percent of employers reported that candidates lack the skills to fill available jobs. More specifically, the employment research group Manpower Inc. found that the top ten occupations with the greatest skill shortages for 2009 include middle skill occupations such as nursing, skilled trades (for example, electricians and welders), and machinists.

However, the investment in skills training that is demanded by both workers and businesses is in jeopardy. Student loan reform is currently stalled in the Senate as the powerful bank lobby tries to kill legislation that would end their $87 billion of subsidies. According to the New York Times, lenders such as Sallie Mae have lobbied Congress hard so far this year, spending millions to win over Congress and defeat SAFRA's reform.
But we can't let the bankers win. With Congress back in session, now is the time for us to tell the Senate (loudly) that Student Loan reform is demanded by students AND workers.
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Armand Biroonak is a Research and Policy Assistant with the Campaign for America's Future. He often contributes to the Campaign's blog roll, focused primarily on national security and education issues. He is a summa cum laude graduate of The (more...)
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