Next Tuesday, President Obama will lay out his vision for the country, and Republican leaders will respond with their own ideas during the State of the Union Address and response. We hope to hear concrete proposals from both sides of the aisle to engage, educate and employ young people, and a continued focus on expanding opportunity for all Americans.
Opportunity Nation urges Congress to act on several bills and issues this year, and we hope President Obama will use his bully pulpit to advance these goals:
- Support multiple pathways that help students graduate from high school and gain skills, particularly for expanding technical and "middle-skill" jobs that are in high demand. Examples include offering evening and Saturday classes; internships that include course credit and a paycheck; dual enrollment programs in which students can earn college credit while in high school; and other alternative approaches that engage students at risk for dropping out and help them succeed.
- Make post-secondary education and training more accessible. Opportunity Nation is heartened by President Obama's proposal to help more low-income Americans enroll in college, and the recent commitment of 100 colleges and universities to do more to reach this population. The College Board, for example, is using direct-mail outreach and information sessions to reach high performing students in urban school districts who might otherwise not apply or realize that scholarships are available. We must redouble our efforts to make sure more students access apprenticeships, certificate programs and other forms of post-secondary credentials that will help them succeed in today's economy.
- Support the creation of post-secondary savings plans paired with financial planning for low and moderate-income families to deal with skyrocketing college costs. Research shows that students with a savings account in their own name are six times more likely to enroll in post-secondary education. We urge the passage of the bipartisan American Dream Accounts Act, cosponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-FL), Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
- Update, improve and expand Career and Technical Education by reauthorizing the current law. We must help more young people gain skills and experience in fields with growing demand for qualified workers, such as advanced manufacturing, information technology and health care. High schools must work more closely with local community colleges and businesses to ensure more students know about growing industries and can earn credentials in these fields.
- Align job-training programs with local workforce needs as proposed by the bipartisan CAREER ACT co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Sen. Robert Portman (R-OH). Opportunity Nation also supports pay-for-performance initiatives which rewards job programs that are proven effective with continued or increased federal funding.
We urge our leaders to lay out strategies and programs that will help young people gain the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century economy and be productive citizens. Young Americans are among the populations hardest hit by the Great Recession, and their unemployment rate of 15 percent is more than double the national average. We have to get this generation back on track.
Too often our young adults are overlooked or cast aside. With nearly 6 million young people currently out of school or work, we can't afford to waste this untapped talent. Ensuring their success will benefit our economy and communities.
And for the first time in decades, our country is talking about how to do so. Democrats and Republicans have both expressed a genuine commitment to restoring the American Dream. Listening to the litany of speeches in recent weeks, there are many points our leaders agree on.
And yet, we have not made enough progress on many issues and programs that could dramatically expand opportunity for America's young people. Even the bills highlighted above, which managed -- against considerable odds -- to get bipartisan support during the last Congressional Session, have gained little traction and are languishing in committees.
We urge President Obama to make these common-sense measures to help support young adults a legislative priority this year, so we can continue to work together to improve outcomes for the rising generation.
Mark Edwards is the Executive Director of Opportunity Nation, a national, bipartisan and cross-sector campaign of over 300 organizations focused on expanding opportunity and economic mobility to more Americans.