College & Workforce Readiness

Trump Executive Order Ramps Up Apprenticeship Programs

By Catherine Gewertz — June 15, 2017 4 min read
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UPDATED President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order Thursday that aims to create a new channel of approval for apprenticeships. He is calling on Congress to commit $100 million in new money to the initiative, and expand the allowable uses of student financial aid so students can use the support for “earn while you learn” programs.

Signing the order at the White House, Trump said he wants to “remove restrictions that have prevented industries from creating apprenticeship programs. Standing at his elbow as he signed were North Carolina Republican Virginia Foxx, the chairwoman of the House education committee, and Bobby Scott of Virginia, its ranking Democrat.

“We’re empowering these companies, these unions, industry groups, federal agencies, to go out and create new apprenticeships for millions of our citizens,” he said. “Apprenticeships place students into great jobs without the crippling debt of four-year college degrees. Instead, apprentices earn while they learn.”

Trump’s top aides have made it clear that he envisions a far wider reach for apprenticeships than currently exists. Earlier this week, the president said he would like to see those paid positions at “every high school in America.”

In a briefing for reporters before the signing, two senior White House officials said that the president’s order will create a new way of getting apprenticeships approved. Currently, half of the country’s 1 million apprenticeships are “registered” with the U.S. Department of Labor. That process requires programs to meet standards of quality, ensuring that students are paid more than minimum wage, and that they receive nationally recognized industry credentials when they complete their programs.

Trump’s order directs Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta to develop new regulations that would create an additional channel of access to that system. It would allow trade associations, labor unions, industry, and third-party training providers to create their own standards and criteria for apprenticeship programs, and then seek expedited approval from the Department of Labor. That system, they said, would preserve the registration process’ quality-control mechanisms while allowing experts in the field to shape programs.

Officials said the work would be done with a strategic use of available funds from the ApprenticeshipUSA program, which was funded at $90 million this year, and for which Trump has requested the same amount next year. But they also said Trump’s order would call on Congress to provide $100 million more for workforce development.

The additional approval channel would not eliminate the Department of Labor from the process, the White House officials said, but rather create a dialog between Labor officials and entities with on-the-ground expertise. The Department of Labor, they said, would still judge and approve the programs.

Trump is ordering a review of the existing 43 workforce-development programs, which sprawl across 13 federal agencies and spend $16.7 billion annually. He will also create a task force to advise him on how to expand apprenticeship programs, the officials said.

The president wants students to be able to use federal student aid for a wide variety of “earn while you learn” programs, including apprenticeships, the White House officials said.

UPDATED Currently, federal student aid can be used only in programs eligible under federal law: an institution of higher education, a proprietary institution of higher education, or a postsecondary vocational institution, according to Karen McCarthy, the director of policy analysis for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Programs must lead to an associate, bachelor’s, professional, or graduate degree, last for at least two years and provide full credit toward a bachelor’s degree, or last at least one academic year and culminate in a certificate or other “nondegree recognized credential” that “prepares students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.”

Expanding the use of federal student aid beyond that legal definition “would be a major shift in how the program operates, and would need Congressional action,” McCarthy wrote in an email.

The idea could face opposition, especially in the wake of revelations about for-profit colleges that accepted federal financial aid and left their graduates unable to earn enough to pay off huge student debts.

The White House officials emphasized that the president’s apprenticeship program isn’t a dig at university education. Rather, it’s about choice: offering multiple pathways to education and good jobs.

UPDATED Trump’s desire to pare back regulations that stand in the way of creating new apprenticeships worried some lawmakers. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, the top Democrat on the appropriations panel that oversees education spending, said in a statement that Thursday’s executive order could “open the floodgates for federal dollars to flow to so-called ‘job training programs’ like Trump University.”

“We cannot allow the American people to be scammed by organizations that rake in million dollars in profit from vulnerable students and give them a shoddy education in return,” she said. “These students deserve education and training that will give them the resources and tools to succeed, and these bogus organizations will not do that.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.