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Colorado Sen. Hickenlooper chairs hearing on legislation to bolster youth apprenticeships

Senators hear witnesses on how new bill could aid alternative education programs across the country
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, seen here in June 2018, chaired a hearing for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee’s Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety to spotlight the Youth Apprenticeship Advancement Act. (Associated Press file)

U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado chaired a hearing for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety to spotlight the Youth Apprenticeship Advancement Act he introduced last year with Sen. Mike Braun.

The Youth Apprenticeship Advancement bill is aimed to increase youth participation in the workforce by encouraging students ages 16 to 22 to enter competitive apprenticeship programs. The bill proposes the Department of Labor award five-year competitive grants to participating eligible programs.

“We believe that lifting up youth apprenticeship programs will also lift up the entire system for the next generation of American workers,” Hickenlooper said in a news release. “It’s the rising tide that will lift all boats.”

The senators heard from witnesses Wesley Patch, process excellence specialist at Vestas Americas, Ascend Indiana President and CEO Brad Rhorer, former California Youth Apprenticeship Council member Denise Tugade, and Steve Day, principal at Cherry Creek Innovation Campus.

Day told The Durango Herald he is excited to see legislation focused on helping students who are experiencing poverty or houselessness. He also believes the legislation will help define success beyond academic success.

“I think a lot of families are imagining their children's future as their past,” he said. “That's really deficit thinking.”

Day says the benefit of earning a technical degree before going to college is becoming increasingly attractive to students, especially as college continues to become a heftier financial burden.

Between 1980 and 2020, the average cost of a college education including fees and room and board, increased by 169%, according to an article from Forbes.

“There's a lot of systems and a lot of families and a lot of students that still are thinking that the old model of success has to be college,” Day said. “But there's just so many students who are burdened by debt.”

Day said he had met a teenager who was going to pay his way through college with his certification in heating, ventilation and air conditioning and graduate without any debt.

Families who attained less than a bachelor's degree saw their wealth grow between 2019 and 2022, a significant reversal to the wealth contractions of previous years, according to a blog post from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The median wealth of families with less than a bachelor's degree grew the most of the groups surveyed. Those with an associate degree or certificate saw a 45% increase in median wealth since 2019.

However, the dollar gap between the most and least educated families grew between 2019 and 2022, and those with bachelors or postgraduate degrees still earned more than their counterparts.

Day believes it is especially true for students like those enrolled in Cherry Creek’s program through the Uniquely Abled Academy, which is specifically designed to help people with Level 1 autism spectrum disorder enter the workforce.

Day said he sees programs like these as a chance to better encourage students of different abilities to enter the workforce.

“Because it's every person we fail in that way, (by not allowing them to gain independence and joy through work), it's a failure for the whole society. That's a loss,” Day said.

Eliza DuBose, a senior at American University, is an intern for The Durango Herald and the Journal in Cortez. She can be reached at the edubose@durangoherald.com.

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