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WIA, WIOA & WIBs, Oh My: What do all these Ws mean, especially for higher ed?

WICHE’s Senior Research Analyst Peace Bransberger breaks down the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and what it could mean for higher education in a new policy brief. Peace joins us on the ACCN blog to describe the brief below, though we encourage you to read the brief in full for an excellent primer on a complex piece of legislation.

In July 2014, Congress enacted the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which replaced the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA), reauthorizing the federal workforce system, the nation's primary source of funding and programming for unemployed and lower-skilled workers. This reauthorization was lauded for its bipartisan intent to make services provided through American Job Centers and adult education programming (among others) more attuned to local labor markets and demonstrably beneficial to customers in terms of streamlined services, improved access to relevant short-term training, credential attainment, and close monitoring of employment results. The impact these programs could have for lower-skilled adults continues to be constrained by limited funding. But WIOA's strategic and procedural improvements provide numerous opportunities for states' public workforce and postsecondary education systems—particularly community colleges—to work together and exploit training opportunities for working and low-income adults.

WICHE released a brief in November—Coordinating Postsecondary Education and the Public Workforce System to Increase Credential Attainment—outlining the key components of this renewed workforce system. In addition to specific policy opportunities and examples, highlights from the brief include:

  • An in-depth explanation of WIOA’s components and who the programs are serving. For example, 28% of those served by WIOA’s Adult and Dislocated Worker programs have attended some college.
  • How WIOA could encourage collaboration between workforce and higher education through the WIOA-mandated state planning process and Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs), as well as through other activities including:
    • Coordinating to better support low-income students eligible for additional support services.
    • Leveraging WIOA training funds to support tuition in programs that might not qualify for federal financial aid due to their length or noncredit nature and using WIB funding to cover the costs of prior learning assessment.
    • Collaborating on the development of career pathways (organizing high-quality education, training, and other services to align with labor market needs).
    • Leveraging the workforce system (and the data it manages) in efforts to make postsecondary programming more aligned to labor market needs and measure students' labor market outcomes.


Peace Bransberger
Senior Research Analyst
Policy Analysis and Research
Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education

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