Public Policy

Changing public policy to break down barriers to learning and make education universally accessible is not only good for individuals, but also for regions, states, and our nation.

At the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), we believe that:

  • Access to quality lifelong learning has become and will continue to be a key determinant of an individual's employability and upward mobility
  • Education and training opportunities must become universally accessible to all incumbent workers, including the disadvantaged and the working poor
  • Improving access requires both financial assistance and user-friendly information on the quality and variety of learning options
  • Investing in the education of the labor force is beneficial to both the public and the private sectors
  • Workforce development systems need to be reinvented, streamlined, and focused on serving the needs of job seekers, workers focused on advancement, career changers, and employers
Much of CAEL’s work in the public policy arena is focused on:

College Completion through Prior Learning Assessment

CAEL is working with leaders at the federal and state levels to meet our country’s college completion agenda by promoting policy to help workers earn college credit for what they already know. Using PLA, students can have their skills and competencies evaluated for college credit. At the federal level, CAEL is advocating for coverage of PLA by Pell grants, Individual Training Accounts (under the workforce system), and state financial aid plans. With support from Lumina Foundation, CAEL is working with statewide systems in Montana and Ohio, as well as with the Texas A&M University System to assist these states in developing an effective approach to PLA to help their nontraditional adult learners, including veterans. CAEL is also working on similar efforts in Idaho and Tennessee.

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Lifelong Learning Accounts (LiLAs)

Lifelong Learning Accounts (LiLAs) are individual asset accounts set up to finance education and training so that workers can upgrade their skills to meet the needs of business and industry while advancing their careers and earning potential. CAEL’s goal is for LiLAs to become a standard part of workers’ compensation packages, similar to 401(k)s or health insurance, so that any worker could contribute funds to a LiLA, which would be matched by his or her employer and, in some cases, third parties. Workers could then use these combined funds for education, training, and related activities, and the funds would be portable. LiLAs differ from traditional job training programs in that they create systemic change in the way individuals can invest in their own futures, while leveraging employer involvement and investment.

State and federal policy leaders are championing LiLAs as a way to strengthen our country’s workforce. For example, Illinois passed legislation in 2006, resulting in a pilot in the healthcare sector with state matching dollars for LiLA contributions. LiLA legislation also has been introduced in recent years in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Minnesota, and Oklahoma. Maine has an ongoing statewide LiLA program. At the federal level, the Lifelong Learning Accounts Act (H.R. 1869) was introduced by Congressmen John Larson (CT-01), Peter Roskam (IL-06), Erik Paulsen (MN 03) and Jared Polis (CO-02), which would create national federal tax incentives for employees in the form of a refundable tax credit of up to $750 for a $2,500 contribution. Employers would be eligible for a tax credit of up to twenty-five percent of contributions to individual employee-owned LiLAs. Small businesses would be eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $500 per year for program start-up costs. The bill builds on legislation introduced by Representative Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) in 2008. In the U.S. Senate, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced the Lifelong Learning Accounts Act of 2007, which would have created a LiLA tax demonstration in up to ten states.

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Tapping Mature Talent

People want to and often have to work longer. Mature workers offer a deep base of skills, knowledge and experience that can help to address our country’s skills gap. As a part of CAEL’s Tapping Mature Talent Initiative, CAEL has developed policy recommendations for Workforce Investment Act reauthorization, and is holding state and regional events with partners across the country to engage policy leaders, employers, and higher education in dialogues about how to support the mature workforce. CAEL will also issue a major report and host a national summit in 2012 to highlight the case for mature workers and needed policy reform.

Tax-Free Employer-Provided Tuition Assistance

Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code has made it possible for millions of employees to take advantage of employer tuition assistance without the sting of tax liability. It is one of the only tax benefits for working learners, and its existence encourages employers to offer tuition assistance. However, since 1983 the provision has been temporary with extensions often made at the last minute. CAEL is pleased to announce that Section 127 has been made a permanent part of law through the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. CAEL has been a part of a coalition that has worked for years to move this important tax policy from an idea to law. For more information, please read Amy Sherman’s blog entry.

For more information about our public policy work, contact us.




Tapping Mature Talent

Read about CAEL's work to develop new services and support systems for an aging workforce.


November 09, 2011

A question for Veterans Day week: Do we treat veterans in a lopsided way?

While veterans are given special status by the US Department of Labor, why can't the same be said for the US Department of Education?

October 14, 2011

Job Training Programs Do More than You Think

Opinion piece: A response to a Wall Street Journal article about the inefficiency and lack of value in government funded job training programs.

August 11, 2011

"The Great Jobs Debate"