Position – Post-Secondary Education and Workforce Development

September 13, 2019


We support access to affordable, high-quality post-secondary education and training programs to prepare individuals for current and future employment opportunities. Educational institutions, workforce development programs, and employers must improve coordination to implement changes to meet the needs of students and the labor market. State and federal governments must increase funding to make education and training affordable.


Societal benefits. By 2020, 65% of all jobs in the United States economy are expected to require some post-secondary training, with at least 35% requiring at least a bachelor’s degree. To meet rapidly changing workforce needs, education and training programs must focus on current actual and future expected job availability. This is required to assure that employees will be available to do the work that growing industries require and help workers avoid unemployment due to job obsolescence.

Individual benefits. Individuals with education and training beyond high school have higher incomes than those whose education ends at high school graduation or earlier, and the earnings gap between high school and college graduates appears to be widening. People with a bachelor’s degree have better job opportunities than those with a high school education. They earn about 75% more on average and they experience lower rates of unemployment.

Also, higher education and training are essential for women and people of color to achieve economic parity with white men. College enrollment and graduation rates for students of color are significantly lower than other groups, and women’s earnings are much lower despite their higher graduation rates.

Better government financing is required. In Missouri, state support for public higher education has decreased significantly in the last 20 years, from 65% to about 35%. The University of Missouri system depends increasingly on tuition. For example, in 2008, tuition and fees paid for 29% of the system’s budget; in 2016, tuition and fees paid for more than 50%, increasing the student’s share of the cost by about 2/3.

Community colleges are a critical link in the education system, and the largest room for job growth is career-focused associate degree programs, but community colleges lack the funds required to meet the need.

Studies show that the per capita amount spent on African-American and Hispanic students is significantly smaller than for white students, and as a result, students of color have less access to services. This requires spending more on community colleges and four-year colleges relative to elite research institutions.

U.S. workforce development expenditures are low compared to other developed countries. The federal government must invest more in the services, programs and systems that will provide people with the necessary education and ongoing skill development to find employment and to advance their careers.

Lack of information can lead to poor choices by students. Job opportunities and wages for workers with different kinds of post-secondary education and training vary greatly. There is currently no uniform data system that shows market demand for the employees with various types of education and training, and some guidance programs actually steer students to programs that do not lead to employment. Easily accessible good information can improve students’ education and career choices.

Low completion rates. About 70% of high school graduates enroll in post-secondary education programs, but only 45% obtain a degree or certificate from the first institution they attend within 6 years. Another 12% transfer and complete a degree or certificate at another institution, for a total completion rate of 57%. Completion rates are higher for full-time students and women, and significantly lower for students of color, older students and part-time students. Only 16% of low-income students graduate, compared to 60% of those with financial advantages.

Four-year public and not-for-profit private schools have the best completion rates, at 65% and 76% respectively. At two-year community colleges, the completion rate is 38%, and at four-year for-profit colleges, the completion rate is the lowest of all, at 35%.

The student loan crisis. Post-secondary education is increasingly unaffordable, especially for low and middle-income students, students of color, and older workers who need to upgrade their skills to meet job market requirements, who are also the students with the lowest completion rates. As a result, the United States has a student debt crisis, with over $1.5 trillion of student debt affecting 40 million borrowers, and nearly nine out of ten student loan borrowers struggling to make payments. For example, borrowers report being unable to save money; 18% are in default on at least one loan; 33% pay more each month on their student loan debt than their rent or mortgage; 58% have had their credit scores lowered; and nearly 40% report they have been unable to achieve their career goals. In addition, student loan default rates are significantly higher at for-profit institutions: five years into repayment, 44% of these borrowers have had some type of loan distress, including an almost astonishing 25% percent in default.

To make things worse, the current loan servicing and payment system is confusing and hard to navigate for many borrowers. Some student loan companies have even been prosecuted for engaging in predatory practices, such as abusive loan terms, deception and coercion.


Increase spending on post-secondary education and training programs at every level of government.

Provide students with effective and easily accessible tools to predict the likelihood that they can find a job and the earnings they can expect. Enact the proposed federal Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, which provides for availability of information on labor market outcomes to prospective students and has received bipartisan support.

Make college more affordable to reduce the number of students who need loans and the amounts they have to borrow.

Make colleges accountable for providing degrees of value to their students and for use of their publicly sourced funds, including student loans.

Simplify the student loan process, including both applications and loan repayments.

Provide consumer protection for all student borrowers, including both public and private loans. This includes affordable repayment options, loan cancellation rights, discharge in bankruptcy and other safeguards.

Continue loan forgiveness programs for borrowers who enter public service careers; provide adequate funding and competent administration.

Provide loan forgiveness relief for victims of predatory for-profit colleges.

Hold college and training programs with high student loan default rates accountable and take away their ability to participate in government student loan programs.