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Human Resource Executive Online, February 2, 2010, Tuesday

Human Resource Executive Online

February 2, 2010, Tuesday

Human Resource Executive Online

Labor College Extends Its Reach

The National Labor College's new online program is expected to offer degrees in areas such as criminal justice, education and business. It may also offer opportunities for employers and unions to partner together to increase the education and skills of the workforce.

By David Shadovitz

The National Labor College is stepping up its efforts to educate union workers and their families.

On Jan. 14, the 41-year-old college announced plans to partner with the Princeton Review, a provider of education services, to bring an online program that confers degrees to the AFL-CIO's 11.5 million members and their families. The program, tentatively entitled the College for Working Families, would significantly extend the reach of the NLC, which to date has focused its curriculum on preparing union leaders.

While many details are still being determined, including what courses and degrees would be offered, most experts view the move as a positive one for union workers and their families.

"Expanding good jobs is a top priority for the AFL-CIO and to achieve this, workers' skills and knowledge must match the role of employers in a changing job market," according to Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and chair of the college's Board of Trustees. "This new online education venture demonstrates our strong commitment to playing a significant role in ensuring that quality education for America's workers and their families remains affordable and accessible."

A pilot program is expected to be launched this fall, though an exact timetable has yet to be set.

"We've listened to our members and will use that feedback to determine what kinds of courses and degrees people require to advance their careers," says Thomas J. Kriger, provost of the NLC. Courses would likely address areas such as criminal justice, education and business.

Kriger points out that the program will focus on the "building blocks of a high-quality liberal-arts education," such as communication and critical-thinking skills.

The Princeton Review was selected as a partner because "it shared the same philosophy for high-quality education" as the college, says Kriger, adding that the Princeton Review will be bringing its strengths in the areas of marketing and student services to the partnership.

Majority control of the venture will be held by NLC, which will be responsible for the program's curriculum.

Roughly a week after announcing the program, NLC President William Scheuerman, who played a key role in forming the partnership, unexpectedly announced his retirement. A few days later, the NLC appointed Paula Peinovich as interim president.

A press release issued by the NLC emphasized Peinovich's online education experience, most recently as provost and president of Walden University, a distance-education graduate university; and before that, as vice president of academic affairs for Excelsior University, another online institution.

A national search is expected to begin later in the year for a permanent replacement.

In an interview published by Inside Higher Ed, Scheuerman said his departure was simply a sign that he had succeeded in what he set out to do.

"I came here to revitalize the college, to bring new ideas, to get on a sound financial basis, to change the culture, and that's all been done," he told the magazine.

Scheuerman, 66, admitted that he didn't "have the expertise to take this college to an online institution of 40,000 students."

Another Inside Higher Ed article reported on concerns by some educators over a labor college teaming up with a for-profit organization such as the Princeton Review. But for the most part, experts view the partnership as a positive development.

"Any effort to increase the availability of education for working adults should be welcomed," says Sally M. Alvarez, director of labor programs for Cornell ILR Extension in New York.

Alvarez points out that the distance-learning model has its challenges, but "as one part of a blended-learning environment, it makes an important contribution to learning opportunities for working adults."

For the past several years, she says, the NLC has been expanding its role in bringing degree-based higher education opportunities to union members.

"I'm particularly impressed with the effort to partner with community colleges and existing union-based education programs," Alvarez says. "If you look at Canada and the U.K., you see a much more robust partnership between employers, the government and unions in providing educational opportunities."

Alvarez notes that it's a "discredit of the United States and the detriment of American workers that unions are not seen as partners in this process."

Though it's difficult to say what effect the program will have on employers, Alvarez says she hopes that it might ultimately result in increased dialogue between some employers and their unions.

"If the opportunities to increase the learning and skills of a workforce are taken advantage of ... the effect might be positive, but employers will need to be open to discussing those advantages with their unionized employees and the NLC," she says.

Christina Lopez-Nutzman, an associate in the Chicago office Smith Amundsen LLC, an employment law firm, believes the partnership should help foster greater loyalty among union workers.

"Unions have been on the decline, so it's one more way of adding value to their members," she says.

February 2, 2010

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