Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced on Monday the creation of a consortium of colleges and business and labor leaders that will focus on providing college credit for apprenticeships.
Speaking here at the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges, Mr. Biden said apprenticeships provide "a pathway to the middle class" for working families and "a pipeline of skilled workers for employers," and must be expanded.
There are now 375,000 workers in registered apprenticeships nationwide. To match Britain on a per-capita basis, the United States would have to add 2.5 million more slots, Mr. Biden said; to equal Germany, it would have to add seven million.
The consortium, which will be jointly administered by the U.S. Departments of Education and of Labor, will help workers enrolled in apprenticeships earn bachelor’s and associate degrees more quickly, and at a lower cost, Mr. Biden said.
Colleges that join the consortium will agree to provide credit to workers who complete participating programs. The amount of credit will be determined by a third-party evaluator, such as the American Council on Education or the National College Credit Recommendation Service.
‘A Way Back In’
Mr. Biden, who was introduced by his wife, Jill, a longtime community-college instructor, lavished praise on two-year institutions, calling them "the best, most direct avenue to the middle class" and "a way back in" for workers who have fallen out of it.
The vice president told the audience of community-college leaders that the Obama administration was counting on them to help close the nation’s skills gap and to expand the shrinking middle class.
"The economy is changing rapidly, and we have to adapt just as rapidly," he said. "You’re the only outfit that can adapt rapidly."
"If not community colleges, what vehicles do we have to train our work force for the future?" he asked.
He joked that he would support community colleges "even if I didn’t sleep with a community-college teacher every night," hastening to add, "the same one, definitely the same one."
The speech comes three months after President Obama announced, in his State of the Union address, that he was assigning his vice president the task of leading an across-the-board reform of the nation’s job-training programs. Since then, Mr. Biden has been meeting with business and labor leaders and visiting job-training programs around the country.