By Mitch Coppes, Senior Specialist, Government Relations, Goodwill Industries International
For many students, this back-to-school season brings with it a host of new and unprecedented challenges to achieving educational goals. A report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that declining college enrollment over the summer session disproportionally impacted economically vulnerable populations in career-focused programs of study. While community colleges saw overall enrollments drop by nearly 6 percent, the most significant declines at these institutions were among male students, Black students, and students ages 30 and older. These troubling trends threaten to widen the existing opportunity gap in post-secondary education as we enter the new school year.
The decision to forgo education and training may be driven by the financial pressures placed on many unemployed or underemployed students, limited access to technology for online instruction, or even a lack of time for college coursework when caring for children making their own uncertain return to classes this fall. Whatever the challenges may be, it comes at a time when many learners are in great of need education and training programs to reskill or upskill for a rapidly changing job market.
Across the country, local Goodwill® organizations have partnered with community colleges to support low-income and non-traditional students in accessing and completing programs that lead to in-demand credentials. For those without high school diplomas, The Excel Center® network of public high schools operated by Goodwill offer adult learners the chance to earn their diplomas and industry-recognized certifications with the benefit of support services such as free onsite child care, coaching and transportation assistance.
In addition to community-based programs, Goodwill seeks to advance policy solutions that will empower all learners to achieve college and career success. These common-sense reforms include extending federal Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in short-term credentialing programs, eliminating restrictions on financial aid for incarcerated students, and investing in programs that support college success for first-generation students, veterans, and individuals with disabilities.
Goodwill stands ready to meet the challenges of back to school and beyond by adapting and innovating to safely deliver services and provide virtual training so that all learners can achieve their educational goals, improve their economic mobility, and become part of a skilled and resilient workforce for the future.