Order Code RL32505
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and
Vocational Education: Policy and Practice
August 2, 2004
Specialist in Social Legislation
Domestic Social Policy Division
Rebecca R. Skinner
Analyst in Social Legislation
Domestic Social Policy Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and
Vocational Education: Policy and Practice
The two pending welfare reform reauthorization bills passed by the House and
reported from the Senate Finance Committee would revise the participation rules for
counting vocational education toward the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
(TANF) work participation standard, though in very different ways. Current law
emphasizes work over education and permits full-time “vocational educational
training” to be counted toward meeting federal TANF standards for only 12 months
in a recipient’s lifetime. The House-passed bill would scale back full-time
participation in this activity to four months. The Senate Finance Committee bill
retains the current law 12-month limit, but provides options to states that could result
in additional months of vocational education being counted. Both bills would expand
states’ ability to count part-time vocational education for recipients who also work.
Vocational education programs generally provide training for a specific
occupation; programs of study vary greatly in their content and duration. Vocational
associates degree programs convey a college degree and generally require about 60
credits or two years of full-time study, but shorter certificate programs are available.
Vocational education is very common among postsecondary education students. In
school year 1999-2000, 55% of students attending two-year or proprietary schools
were in vocational education.
The debate over revising TANF rules for vocational education continues a longrunning debate over the role of education in welfare-to-work programs. In the
general population, higher levels of educational attainment translate into higher
earnings. Welfare recipients tend to have lower levels of educational attainment than
the general population. Yet the research on welfare-to-work programs finds that
education-focused programs do not outperform programs that emphasize rapid
attachment to jobs in raising employment and earnings of cash assistance recipients.
This research, however, is not specific to programs that focus specifically on
vocational education. Many welfare recipients do not have the prerequisites for
postsecondary vocational education (i.e., they lack a high school degree). Moreover,
many recipients who have such prerequisites participate in vocational education on
their own (without a program mandate), which dilutes the measured impact of
The current debate takes place in a different context than welfare debates prior
to TANF. TANF’s fixed funding provides states a strong incentive to reduce
caseloads — even if Congress permitted more vocational education to count toward
participation standards, states would still have the incentive to place recipients in
activities that would speed their entry into jobs and exit from the welfare rolls.
Further, the debate can be broadened to include part-time education and training for
working recipients and other low-income parents. The majority of postsecondary
students can be classified as “nontraditional” — with characteristics like TANF
recipients (older, having dependents and often working). A key question is whether
“targeted” programs of vocational or postsecondary education or programs that
emphasize part-time education combined with work will be effective in achieving
some of the policy goals — particularly raising incomes — which have eluded most
evaluated welfare-to-work programs. This report will be updated as events warrant.
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
What is Vocational Educational Training? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Postsecondary Vocational Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Types of Vocational Education Opportunities at the Postsecondary Level . . 3
Vocational Educational Training as a Creditable TANF Work Activity . . . . . . . . 4
Participation in Vocational Educational Training Under Current Law . . . . . 4
House-Passed and Senate Finance Committee Versions of H.R. 4 . . . . . . . . 6
Other Welfare Reform Proposals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Profiles of TANF Adult Recipients and Postsecondary Education Students . . . . . 7
TANF Adult Recipients . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Postsecondary Education Students . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Academic and Career Undergraduate Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Traditional and Nontraditional Undergraduates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
The Role of Education in Welfare-to-Work Programs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Relationship Between Educational Attainment and Earnings . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Outcomes from a Study on Vocational Education for Welfare
Recipients in California . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
The Impact of Programs: Findings from the National Evaluation of
Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
The Portland Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
What Do the NEWWS Findings Say About Vocational Education? . . . . . . 21
Different Types of Programs? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
GED and Postsecondary Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Postemployment Programs? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
What Do We Know About Combining Work and Vocational
Education? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
Appendix A. Descriptions of State Vocational Educational Training
Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Appendix B. Detailed Rules on Counting Participation in “Vocational
Educational Training” Toward TANF Work Participation Standards . . . 34
Current Law Rules . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Vocational Educational Training as an Activity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Current Law Limits on Counting Vocational Educational Training . . 35
Teen Parents and the Vocational Educational Training Cap . . . . . . . . 37
Reauthorization Proposals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Vocational Educational Training in the House-Passed Bill . . . . . . . . . 37
Vocational Educational Training in the Senate Finance
Committee Bill . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
Senate Finance Committee Bill: Parents as Scholars . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
Summary Comparison of Current Law and Proposed Bills’
Treatment of Vocational Educational Training . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
Impact of Removing Teen Parents from the 30% Cap . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Appendix C: Average Earnings and Educational Attainment Over Time . . . . . . 44
List of Figures
Figure 1. FY2002 Participation in Selected TANF Work Participation
Activities: As a Percent of All Adults Receiving Cash Welfare . . . . . . . . . . 5
Figure 2. Educational Attainment of Adults Aged 20 and Older in March
2003: Cash Assistance Recipients and Nonrecipients . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Figure 3. Undergraduate Enrollment in Degree-Granting Institutions:
By Institution Control and Level, Fall 2001 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Figure 4. Undergraduate Enrollment in Degree Granting Institutions
by Student Attendance: Fall 2001 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Figure 5. Undergraduate Enrollment in Degree-Granting Institutions,
by Age Group and Attendance Status, Fall 2001 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Figure 6. Percentage of Undergraduates by Classification as
Traditional or Nontraditional Student: 1999-2000 School Year . . . . . . . . 14
Figure 7. Median Earnings of Women Aged 20 and Older in 2002, By
Educational Attainment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Figure 8. Earning Impacts from Selected Programs in the National
Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Figure 9. Vocational Education Training Participants in FY2002:
Participating in Vocational Educational Training Alone or in
Combination with Other Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Figure C1. Mean Earnings of Workers Aged 18 and Older (In Constant
2001 Dollars), By Educational Attainment: 1975-2001 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
List of Tables
Table 1. Job Attachment by Educational Attainment for Adult Women:
2002 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Table A1. State Definitions of Vocational Educational Training Under
the TANF Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Table B1. TANF Creditable Work Activities Under Current Law . . . . . . . . . . . 35
Table B2. Vocational Educational Training as a TANF Work Activity:
Current Law Compared with the House-Passed and Senate Finance
Committee Versions of H.R. 4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
Table B3. Illustration of the Effect of Removing Teen Parents from the
30% Cap for Vocational Education and Teen Parents Deemed Engaged
in Work through Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
and Vocational Education:
Policy and Practice
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant requires
each state to have a specified percentage of its cash welfare caseload engaged in
creditable work activities or be subject to financial penalties. TANF provides cash
assistance (and a wide array of other benefits and services) to needy families with
children. TANF’s creditable activities emphasize work over education and training,
and impose limits on how much education and training a state may count toward
meeting participation standards. One creditable activity is vocational educational
training, but currently states are allowed to count this activity for only 12 months in
a recipient’s lifetime.
The participation rules for vocational educational training would be revised
under both the House-passed and Senate Finance Committee reported versions of the
welfare reform reauthorization bill, H.R. 4, though in very different ways. Additional
changes to states’ ability to count vocational educational training might be considered
if and when the full Senate resumes debate on H.R. 4. (The Senate began debate on
H.R. 4 on March 29, 2004, but the bill was set-aside on April 1 after a motion to limit
debate on the bill failed to muster the required 60 votes.)
This report examines the following questions and issues:
What is “vocational educational training”? What is the content of
vocational education programs, typically how long do they last, and
what types of credentials does successful completion of a program
How common is vocational educational training among TANF
recipients under current law?
What are the characteristics of TANF adult recipients (for example
their educational attainment and age)? How do they compare with
the characteristics of postsecondary education students? Would a
TANF recipient be atypical of the population of postsecondary
education students or does the postsecondary educational system
often deal with persons seeking vocational education who have
characteristics similar to TANF recipients?
What are the policy implications of proposed changes in TANF rules
for counting participation in vocational education? What is the
available evidence on how changes in the role of vocational
education might improve outcomes of TANF participants —
particularly in raising incomes, an impact that thus far has eluded
most evaluated welfare-to-work programs?
What is Vocational Educational Training?
“Vocational educational training” is a term idiosyncratic to the TANF program.
TANF lists but does not define the activities countable toward its work participation
standards, allowing states to define what constitutes each activity including
“vocational educational training.” States generally have defined “vocational
educational training” as vocational education, which itself is a term that can have
different meanings, as discussed below. They also sometimes define “vocational
educational training” to include remedial education, such as English as a Second
Language (ESL) or adult basic education, which might be required before a recipient
may go on to postsecondary vocational education. See Appendix A for state
definitions of “vocational educational training.”
Vocational education programs may carry different labels. For example, while
some programs are designated specifically as vocational education programs, others
are referred to as vocational and technical education programs, career education
programs, or career and technical education programs. While these programs carry
different designations, often they provide similar types of education or training.
Additionally, vocational education occurs both at the high school and
postsecondary education levels. Federal education policy in the Carl D. Perkins
Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998 addresses both secondary and postsecondary vocational education. However, in the context of the TANF program,
vocational educational training generally refers to postsecondary education.
Vocational educational training in high school might be reported as secondary school
attendance (another listed TANF work activity), rather than as vocational educational
Postsecondary Vocational Education
At the postsecondary level, there are numerous vocational education options,
ranging from engineering technology to flower arranging. Most for-credit vocational
education is provided at community colleges, but for-profit (proprietary) institutions
also provide many vocational education opportunities. Based on a Congressional
Research Service (CRS) analysis of data from the 1999-2000 National Postsecondary
Student Aid Survey, about 55% of all students enrolled at less-than-four-year
institutions and proprietary institutions reported majoring in vocational areas.1
In terms of vocational education opportunities for adults and the length of time
required to complete a program of study, the following discussion is limited to
vocational education opportunities offered outside of a high school setting.
For more information about this analysis, See CRS Report RL31747, The Carl D. Perkins
Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998: Background and Implementation, by
Rebecca R. Skinner and Richard N. Apling.
Vocational education programs offered at the high school level are provided over the
course of a student’s four years of enrollment and require enrollment in high school.2
The programs discussed in this report are those that would be more readily accessible
to an adult interested in participating in vocational education.
Types of Vocational Education Opportunities at the
Outside of a high school setting, vocational education opportunities include forcredit courses, such as degree or certificate programs; noncredit courses; and
noncredit customized training (e.g., courses offered to meet the specific need of an
employer and his/her employees). The U.S. Department of Education (ED) defines
four specific types of vocational education at the postsecondary level:3
Vocational associate degree programs: These programs include
vocational and academic work, generally requiring the attainment of
about 60 credits. This is equivalent to about two years of full-time
attendance. Students typically earn an associate of arts degree (AA),
associate of science degree (AS), or associate of applied science
(AAS) degree. For example, a student may earn an AS in video
production or chemical technology, or an AAS in marine
environmental technology or office administration.
Institutional certificate programs: These programs are generally
undertaken by individuals as a means to develop or upgrade jobrelated skills. They generally require about one year of full-time
instruction in for-credit courses, or about 24-30 credits, but can
range from two weeks to two years. Most of these programs include
few academic courses. Examples of certificate programs include
office support, cable installation, and baking and pastry arts.
Industry skill certifications: These are industry developed,
awarded, and recognized certificates signifying achievement of skills
in a particular area. Certificates often are earned by passing a
At the high school level, vocational education programs can be classified into three groups:
(1) consumer and homemaking education, preparing students for participation outside the
paid labor market; (2) general labor market preparation, providing general skills that are not
related to a particular occupation (e.g., word processing skills); and (3) specific labor
market preparation in occupational fields (e.g., agriculture, health care, or computer repair).
Secondary vocational education programs take place in a variety of settings including
comprehensive high schools, area or regional vocational schools, vocational high schools,
and career academies. According to the latest data available from the U.S. Department of
Education’s (ED) National Assessment of Vocational Education (NAVE), almost all high
school students complete at least one vocational education course. More specifically, 25%
of students are vocational “concentrators,” earning three or more credits in a single
occupational area; and an additional 19% are vocational “explorers,” earning three or more
credits across more than one occupational area. See U.S. Department of Education, Office
of the Undersecretary, National Assessment of Vocational Education: Interim Report to
Congress, 2002 (Hereafter cited as ED, NAVE Interim Report).
ED, NAVE Interim Report, pp. 60-62.
specific test. Individuals may prepare for these tests through selfstudy or courses offered by postsecondary institutions or other
training providers. Examples of industry skills certifications include
Automotive Service Certification, Excellence Service Consultant
Certification, Certified Welding Inspector, Oracle Certification, and
Microsoft Certified Professional. In many cases, work experience
is required prior to obtaining certification.
Non-credit course work: This is generally course work taken to
learn specific job-related skills or for personal enrichment. The
course work may involve one course or a series of courses. Course
contact time varies depending on the specific course or course of
study. Non-credit course work can include one or multiple courses
in any area from graphics design to forest management.
Vocational Educational Training as a
Creditable TANF Work Activity
TANF sets minimum work participation rate standards that a state must meet
or be subject to financial penalties. The work participation standards are
performance measures computed in the aggregate for each state, which require states
to have a specified percentage of families with an adult cash welfare recipient
considered engaged in work or job preparation activities. Under TANF, a cash
welfare recipient must work in a creditable work activity for a minimum number of
hours to be considered a “participant.”
This section provides a brief summary of how vocational educational training
would be counted under current law and pending reauthorization proposals. The
technical details of these rules can be found in Appendix B.
Participation in Vocational Educational Training Under
Current federal law lists 12 creditable work activities that recipients may engage
in which count toward meeting TANF work participation standards, one of which is
vocational educational training. Postsecondary education, other than that classified
as vocational educational training, does not count toward meeting participation
standards. TANF work activities emphasize work, or activities to rapidly move
recipients into work, over education and training. The exception is that states are
allowed to count participation in “vocational educational training,” but only for 12
months in a recipient’s lifetime. Figure 1 shows the percent of TANF adult
recipients who participate in selected TANF work and job preparation activities.
Though only 3.5% of adult recipients participated in “vocational educational
training,” this activity was the third most common activity for recipients — behind
only “unsubsidized employment” and job search.
Figure 1. FY2002 Participation in Selected TANF Work Participation
Activities: As a Percent of All Adults Receiving Cash Welfare
[Participation Means at Least One Hour Per Week of Activity During a Month in FY2002]
a b ds
t C Sta
Source: CRS tabulations of the FY2002 TANF national data files.
*Activity counted subject to time limits. Job search is countable for only six weeks in a fiscal year,
or if a state meets economically needy criteria, 12 weeks in a year. Vocational education is limited
to 12 months in a lifetime.
Since FY2002, states have been required to have at least 50% of their families
with an adult or minor head of household have at least one work “participant.”
However, this 50% standard rate was reduced substantially in most states by the
caseload reduction credit, which reduces the minimum work participation rate
standard by one percentage point for each one percent decline in the caseload since
FY1995.4 As a result, the minimum work participation rate standard was reduced to
0% in 21 states in FY2002, with minimum participation rate standards much lower
than 50% in most states.
The reduced standards have de-emphasized the federal rules for what counts
toward the participation standards, allowing states additional discretion in fashioning
their welfare to work programs. States may, and many do, engage cash welfare
recipients in activities not on the federal list of creditable activities and have those
There is also a separate 90% participation standard for the two-parent portion of the cash
welfare caseload. This standard would be eliminated in most reauthorization proposals and
is therefore not discussed in this report. The 90% standard may also be reduced by a
caseload reduction credit.
activities count toward meeting the state’s own work requirements. For example,
some states allow a recipient up to 24 months of vocational education or allow
participation in postsecondary education. States cannot, however, count participation
in such noncreditable activities toward meeting the federal TANF participation
House-Passed and Senate Finance Committee Versions of
The 1996 welfare reform law (P.L. 104-193) that created TANF provided
funding for the block grant through FY2002. The program has been continued
through a series of short-term stop-gap extensions. In the 108th Congress, a bill (H.R.
4) has passed the House and is pending in the Senate that would reauthorize TANF
for five years and revise the program.
Both House and Senate versions of H.R. 4 would raise participation standards
to 70% and also would likely have the effect of reducing credits against these
standards.5 Therefore, the reauthorization proposals would reemphasize the federal
rules for determining whether a family is participating in work. Both versions would
also restructure allowable work activities that count toward those standards. Though
both would maintain the focus of the program on work, both would encourage states
to modify their programs but in different ways.
One major difference between the two versions of H.R. 4 is how many months
of full-time vocational educational training would count toward the TANF
participation standards as a recipient’s sole or primary activity. This difference has
implications for the types of vocational training that recipients could engage in full
time; that is, without combining education and work.
In the House-passed version of H.R. 4, the emphasis would be on short-term
training. The bill would allow states to count vocational educational training
programs as the sole or primary work activity for four months in a 24-month period.
Further, participation in certain other activities — including job search — would be
The House-passed version of H.R. 4 would revise the current law caseload reduction
credit, ultimately basing the credit on caseload change measured over the most recent three
year period of available data. (Some states with large historic caseload reductions would
receive additional credit.) This replaces a credit which measured all change from FY1995
(pre-welfare reform) caseload levels. The change is expected to reduce caseload reduction
credits against the higher participation standards, resulting in higher percentages of welfare
recipients having to meet participation standards than currently have to meet the standards.
The Senate Finance Committee version of H.R. 4 would eventually replace the caseload
reduction credit with an employment credit, for families that leave the rolls for work. The
Finance Committee credit is capped. Both the increase in the statutory participation
standard and the reductions in the credit are phased in over a five year period. In FY2008,
the statutory participation rate standard would be 70% and the maximum credit against the
standard would be 20 percentage points. This would yield a minimum effective (after
credit) standard of 50%.
subtracted from the time allowable for full-time participation in vocational
educational training counted toward TANF participation standards.
The Senate Finance Committee bill retains the status quo regarding the 12
month limit on counting vocational education training. It would allow vocational
educational training to count for more than 12 months if the state opted to create a
Parents as Scholars program within TANF, which would allow up to 10% of a
state’s total caseload to be in a postsecondary education program (including
vocational educational training) and count toward the TANF work participation
Both versions of H.R. 4 allow part-time vocational education, such as night
classes, in combination with work, to be countable without limit. Thus, the two
versions would encourage those working to continue their education by giving credit
for part-time participation in vocational educational training.
Other Welfare Reform Proposals
In addition to the two versions of H.R. 4, other welfare reauthorization
proposals would have revised the rules for vocational educational training. In the
107th Congress, the Senate Finance Committee approved a bill (H.R. 4737) that
would have allowed up to 24 months of vocational education and other
postsecondary education to count toward TANF work participation requirements. A
similar proposal was included in the two Democratic substitute measures for H.R. 4
that were offered, but defeated, during consideration of that bill on the House floor.
Proposals that would extend vocational educational training to 24 months would
allow a parent to be a full-time student and complete an associates degree in the
traditional two year time frame.
Profiles of TANF Adult Recipients and
Postsecondary Education Students
What are the characteristics of TANF adult recipients (for example their
educational attainment and age)? How do they compare with the characteristics of
postsecondary education students? Would a TANF recipient be atypical of the
postsecondary education student population or does the postsecondary educational
system often deal with persons seeking vocational education who have characteristics
similar to TANF recipients?
TANF Adult Recipients
The typical TANF adult recipient is a single woman caring for children. The
most common TANF family size is two (mother and one child), though the average
family size is three (mother and two children). Slightly more than one half of TANF
adult recipients are single parents caring for a preschool-aged child.
TANF adult recipients have lower educational attainment than the general
population. Figure 2 compares the educational attainment of adults (age 20 and
older) who receive TANF and those who do not receive TANF, based on data from
the March 2003 Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS captures educational
attainment as of March 2003 and whether cash welfare was received in the previous
year, 2002.6 The figure shows that 38% of TANF adult recipients lacked a high
school credential, which was much higher than the 20% of nonrecipients who did not
have a high school credential.7 In March 2003, 36% of cash assistance recipients had
completion of high school as their highest level of educational attainment, compared
with 31% of the rest of the adult population. Big differences were also apparent in
the receipt of a college degree, particularly in the receipt of a bachelor’s degree or an
advanced degree. An estimated 5% of TANF adults had an associate’s degree, but
only 2% a bachelor’s degree or higher. This contrasts with the rest of the population,
with 8% having an associate’s degree and 25% having a bachelor’s degree or higher.
About 19% of TANF recipients had some college, but no degree, the same as the rest
of the adult population.
Figure 2. Educational Attainment of Adults Aged 20 and Older in
March 2003: Cash Assistance Recipients and Nonrecipients
Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS) tabulations of data from the Mar. 2003 Current
Population Survey (CPS).
The educational attainment information here for the TANF caseload is based on the CPS
rather than TANF administrative data so that it can be directly compared with the
educational attainment of those who did not receive TANF. The educational attainment
statistics derived from TANF administrative records differ slightly (showing more recipients
who failed to complete high school) than what is derived from the CPS.
The CPS does not distinguish between individuals with a traditional high school diploma
or a General Education Development (GED) credential.
Many TANF adults are in the age group where furthering one’s education is
common. Of adult TANF recipients, 20-24 year olds comprised 26% and those aged
25 to 29 were 20% of the group. A little more than half of all TANF parents and
caretaker recipients were 30 years or older.
However, the low educational attainment of the TANF population indicates that
many of these individuals are not academically prepared for postsecondary vocational
education course work, necessitating remediation through adult education courses
(for those without a high school degree) or at a postsecondary institution. Remedial
education to prepare for vocational education increases the time required to obtain
a degree: this is not a trivial matter in TANF, which sets time limits on how long
activities can count and ultimately on how long a family with an adult may receive
Postsecondary Education Students
This section looks at general enrollment patterns in undergraduate education in
order to consider how the characteristics of TANF participants compare to those of
the broader population of “nontraditional” students currently enrolled in
Academic and Career Undergraduate Education. The 1999-2000
National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:2000) collected information
about career and vocational education at the postsecondary level. In analyzing data
from this study, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) at the
Department of Education (ED) developed a new taxonomy that classifies
undergraduate majors as either academic or career majors.8 Academic majors are
formal programs of study that focus on comprehensive and theoretical aspects of a
subject area without an explicit focus on occupation-specific job requirements.
Career majors, on the other hand, are formal programs of study that are designed to
provide knowledge and skills in the context of occupation-specific job requirements.
They tend to focus more on application and less on theory, and have a narrower focus
than academic majors. Career majors are further subdivided by vocational career
majors and nonvocational career majors. This distinction is primarily focused on
whether the program of study requires a subbacalaureate level of education9 or
education at the baccalaureate level or higher, respectively.10
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Undergraduate
Enrollments in Academic, Career, and Vocational Education, NCES 2004-018. (Feb.
A v a i l a b l e o n l i n e a t [ h t t p : / / w w w . n c e s . e d . go v/ p u b s e a r c h /
Community colleges enrolled 89% of all students in less-than four year degree-granting
institutions in 1999-2000. They also awarded almost three-quarters of all associate’s
degrees and 54% of all subbaccalaureate degrees. (U.S. Department of Education, National
Center for Education Statistics. (2002). Digest of Education Statistics: 2001. NCES 2002130. Table 170.)
This distinction is made primarily because the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical
Education Act of 1998 (Perkins III; P.L. 105-332) specifies in Section 3 that vocational and
Findings from the analysis show that two-thirds of all undergraduates were
engaged in career education. Among baccalaureate students 61% were engaged in
career education compared with 71% of students enrolled at the csubbaccalaureate
level. At the subbaccalaureate level, over half of all students were enrolled in the
vocational areas of business/marketing, computer science, and health care, and the
academic area of liberal arts/general studies. Thus, subbaccalaureate institutions (i.e.,
primarily community colleges) serve as both the providers of job training, as well as
a starting point for students interested in pursuing a four year degree.
Traditional and Nontraditional Undergraduates. The image of college
students who attend four year institutions on a full-time basis, enroll immediately
following the completion of a high school diploma, live on campus, do not work or
only work part time while enrolled, and finish their degrees in four years has become
the exception rather than the rule. For example, as depicted in Figure 3,
undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting institutions eligible to participate in
federal student financial aid programs (hereafter referred to as “degree-granting
institutions”) in fall 2001 was divided fairly evenly between two year and four year
institutions with a slight majority of students enrolled in four year institutions. Over
time, the percentage of students enrolling in two year institutions has increased from
35.3% of undergraduates in 1976 to 45.6% of undergraduates 25 years later.11
technical education is defined as a sequence of courses below the baccalaureate level.
Perkins III is the federal government’s largest investment in vocational and technical
The data from 1976 are for all levels of enrollment (including graduate education).
However, undergraduates comprise the majority of all postsecondary enrollment and two
year institutions do not generally offer graduate level programs. The percentage of
undergraduate students who were enrolled in two year institutions in 1976 this may be
understated as the denominator used to calculate the percentage was larger than that used
for comparison purposes (i.e., 2001 percentage) as it included students at all levels. (U.S.
Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2003). Digest of
Education Statistics: 2002, Table 206.
Figure 3. Undergraduate Enrollment in Degree-Granting Institutions: By
Institution Control and Level, Fall 2001
Source: Figure created by CRS based on data available from the U.S. Department of Education,
National Center for Education Statistics, Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2001 and
Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2001, NCES 2004-155, Table 8.
Note: Only degree-granting institutions eligible to participate in federal student financial aid programs
authorized by the Higher Education Act of 1965 are included in this figure.
At the same time, an increasing proportion of postsecondary students are
enrolling part time. For example, in 1970, 28.4% of students were enrolled part time
compared with 39.3% in 2001.12 The percentage of part-time students varies,
however, by type of institution attended with significantly more students enrolled part
time at two year institutions than at four year institutions (Figure 4). Based on
current and proposed TANF legislation, part-time attendance would probably be the
postsecondary education route most accessible to welfare recipients also engaged in
meeting work participation requirements.
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of
Education Statistics: 2002, (2003). Table 187.
Figure 4. Undergraduate Enrollment in Degree Granting Institutions
by Student Attendance: Fall 2001
Source: Figure created by CRS, Mar. 24, 2004, based on data available from the U.S. Department
of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall
2001 and Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2001, NCES 2004-155, various tables.
There also were differences in the percentage of students attending part time by
age. Among undergraduates enrolled in postsecondary education full time, 82.1%
are 24 years old or younger (Figure 5). However, among part-time students, the
majority of undergraduates were 25 years or older — the age group into which most
TANF participants would be classified. This trend was evident at two year and four
year institutions, as well as at public and private institutions.13
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Enrollment in
Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2001 and Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2001, NCES
2004-155, various tables.
Figure 5. Undergraduate Enrollment in Degree-Granting
Institutions, by Age Group and Attendance Status, Fall 2001
Source: Figure created by CRS, Mar. 24, 2004, based on data available from the U.S. Department
of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall
2001 and Financial Statistics, FY2001, NCES 2004-155, various tables.
While data support the notion that the undergraduate student population is
changing over time, classifying students as either traditional or nontraditional is a
much debated issue in education. ED has developed a fairly broad definition of a
nontraditional student based on how many of the following characteristics a student
Delays enrollment in postsecondary education;
Attends part time for at least part of the academic year;
Works full time (at least 35 hours per week) while enrolled;
Is considered financially independent for financial aid purposes;
Has dependents other than a spouse;
Is a single parent; or
Does not have a high school diploma.14
Students with one of these characteristics are classified as minimally nontraditional.
Students having two or three of these characteristics are considered moderately
nontraditional. Students with four or more of these characteristics are considered
highly nontraditional. Based on these criteria, during the 1999-2000 academic year,
Individual may have a GED or similar credential, or did not complete high school.
roughly the same percentage of students were classified as traditional as were
classified as highly nontraditional (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Percentage of Undergraduates by Classification as
Traditional or Nontraditional Student: 1999-2000 School Year
Source: Figure prepared by CRS based on data available from U.S. Department of Education,
National Center for Education Statistics, (2002). Findings from the Condition of Education Statistics
2002: Nontraditional Undergraduates, NCES 2002-012.
As previously mentioned, the definition of a nontraditional student remains
controversial. There may be alternatives to the ED definition of nontraditional
student. For example, a recent CRS analysis of data from the Current Population
Survey (CPS) examined the prevalence of two of the seven aforementioned factors
— age and enrollment — with respect to nontraditional students.15 Age and
enrollment status are factors that are likely to be related to other characteristics that
ED uses to define nontraditional students, such as working full-time or having
Continuing to use being over or under 25 years of age as a demarcation of older
and younger students, respectively, and defining full-time enrollment as 12 credit
hours or more, the October 2000 CPS data showed that 28% of undergraduates were
25 years old or older and 28% of undergraduates were enrolled on a part-time basis.
If a nontraditional student is defined as being 25 years or older or enrolling on a part15
For detailed information about this analysis, see CRS Report RL31441, The
Postsecondary Education Student Population, by Jeffrey J. Kuenzi and James B. Stedman.
time basis, 39% of undergraduates would be classified as nontraditional under this
alternative definition. While this is a smaller percentage of students being classified
as nontraditional than under the ED definition, it still represents a substantial
percentage of all undergraduates. The analysis also showed that nontraditional
students were more likely than traditional students to be enrolled in public two year
institutions,16 be minority, and have a relatively low income.
Most or all TANF participants would be classified as nontraditional students
based on either definition. According to the ED definition, all TANF participants
would be classified as at least moderately nontraditional based on having at least one
dependent other than a spouse and being financially independent. In addition to other
possible factors (e.g., part-time attendance), based on the relatively high percentage
of TANF participants that lack a high school diploma and the high percentage of
TANF participants past traditional college age (i.e., 25 years old or older), many
TANF participants would probably be categorized as highly nontraditional
postsecondary education students. The majority of TANF participants would
probably be classified as nontraditional students using the alternative definition based
on the high percentage of TANF participants 25 years old and older and the emphasis
placed on work, which may make part-time attendance a more realistic enrollment
Thus, if TANF participants were to enroll in postsecondary education or
vocational educational training at a postsecondary institution, they would most likely
be considered nontraditional students. Nevertheless, however defined, such students
constitute a substantial share of postsecondary education enrollment.
The Role of Education in Welfare-to-Work Programs
The rules for counting vocational educational training toward TANF work
requirements are part of a larger, and long-standing, debate on the role of education
in helping welfare families move off the benefit rolls and into jobs. Current TANF
law emphasizes work and rapid entry into employment over education and training,
and many states have adopted “work-first” approaches in their welfare programs.
Research generally shows that such programs are effective in moving recipients into
employment and reducing the welfare rolls. Whether “work-first” programs have
been effective in achieving other policy goals is more debatable, with most evaluated
programs failing to raise incomes of participants.
The debate over the role of education in welfare-to-work programs is partly
based on values — a goal of TANF is to reduce welfare dependency and provide
temporary assistance. Having welfare support a person’s college education, a
relatively long-term endeavor, is controversial. Further, there could be concerns
about inequities created by expanding the availability of postsecondary education for
families on welfare compared to the availability of similar education for low-income
persons who never go onto the cash assistance rolls.
ED reached a similar conclusion when it examined the enrollment patterns of
nontraditional students. (ED, Nontraditional Undergraduates, Table 3).
However, the debate on the role of education in welfare to work programs also
has some of its roots in seemingly contradictory evidence. On the one hand, higher
levels of educational attainment are associated with higher earnings. On the other
hand, a body of research on welfare to work strategies provides evidence that
education-focused programs, while costing more, do not have a greater impact in
increasing the earnings of cash assistance recipients, even over the long-term, than
programs that focus on moving recipients quickly into the labor force. This section
examines that apparent contradiction and its implications for how vocational
education is treated in welfare-to-work programs.
Relationship Between Educational Attainment and Earnings
There is a general perception that attaining a college degree is the price of entry
to the middle class in America. Without a college diploma, the opportunities to
obtain a relatively high-paying job are perceived to be limited. The CPS collects
annual earnings and educational attainment data. Based on these data, a distinct
relationship between educational attainment and earnings is evident across various
levels of education.17 That is, individuals with an advanced degree earn more than
individuals with bachelor’s degrees, who earn more than individuals with some
college or an associate’s degree, and so forth.18
Figure 7 shows the median earnings of women aged 20 and older for 2002 by
educational attainment in relation to the poverty threshold for a family of three (the
average size of a welfare family). Women who lacked a high school diploma had
median earnings that left them below the poverty threshold. While those with higher
levels of educational attainment had earnings above the poverty threshold, substantial
increases over the poverty threshold were not realized until the associate’s degree
level of educational attainment. Further, the median earnings for a vocational
associate’s degree was the same as the median earnings for an academic associate’s
degree ($25,000 per year). This median earnings amount exceeded the poverty
threshold for a family of three by 67%. In contrast, the median earnings of women
with only a high school diploma ($19,000 per year) was just 27% above the poverty
threshold and median earnings for women who had some college but no degree was
just $1,000 above the median earnings for women who just had a high school
Additionally, the average earnings of those who failed to finish high school declined, in
real terms, since the 1970s, while the real earnings of those with college degree has
increased markedly. See Appendix C for a discussion of the trend in average earnings.
For more information, see CRS Report 95-1081 E, Education Matters: Earnings by
Highest Year of Schooling Completed, by Linda Levine.
Figure 7. Median Earnings of Women Aged 20 and Older in
2002, By Educational Attainment
Thousands of Dollars Per Year
Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS) tabulations of data from the Mar. 2003 Current
Population Survey. Earnings are the sum of wage and salary earnings and self-employment (including
Differences in annual earnings can translate into large disparities in lifetime
earnings. For example, the estimated work-life earnings for a full-time year-round
worker19 over a 40-year working life are $1.2 million for a high school graduate and
$2.1 million for a bachelor’s degree recipient.20 Thus, completing a bachelor’s degree
could translate into a difference of about $1 million over a work life or almost twice
as much as an individual with only a high school diploma may earn.
The level of educational attainment also affects the degree of job attachment of
adult women. Strong job attachment — full-year/full-time work defined as working
35 or more hours per week for at least 50 weeks a year — is likely to be necessary
(though not necessarily sufficient) for a family to move from welfare to work and
remain off the rolls. Table 1 shows the work experience of all adult women (aged 20
and older) by education level. This includes women both in and out of the labor force.
The higher the level of education, the more likely it was for a woman to work at some
time during the year. Additionally, the higher the level of education, the more likely
A full-time year-round worker is defined as an individual working 35 hours or more per
week for 50 weeks or more per year.
U.S. Census Bureau, The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of
Work-Life Ear ni ngs, (2002), p. 23-210, available online at
[http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/p23-210.pdf]. The dollars shown represent the
“present value” of lifetime earnings, in 1999 dollars.
a woman was to work full time all year. For those with a high school diploma only,
37% worked full year, full-time. For women with at least an associate’s degree level
of education, almost half worked full-year, full-time.
Table 1. Job Attachment by Educational Attainment
for Adult Women: 2002
No high school diploma
High school diploma
Some college, no degree
Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS) tabulations of the Mar. 2003 Current Population
Note: Full year/full time refers to individuals working 35 hours or more per week for 50 or more weeks
per year. Full year/part time refers to individuals working 1-34 hours per week for 50 or more weeks
per year. Part year/full time refers to individuals working 35 hours or more per week for less than 50
weeks per year. Part year/part time refers to individuals working 1-34 hours per week for less than 50
weeks per year.
Outcomes from a Study on Vocational Education for Welfare
Recipients in California. There is very little research that directly relates to how
vocational education affects employment and earnings of welfare recipients. One
recent study examined recipients in California’s TANF program who took vocational
education courses in community college.21 The study found that post-vocational
education earnings were greater than earnings before the recipients took the courses.
Moreover, earnings increases were greater for those who completed more vocational
education courses. The study found that median annual earnings of TANF recipients
before entering the program were in the $4,000 to $5,000 per year range (low earnings
are to be expected of recipients receiving cash welfare). Two years after completing
the program, those who had completed just a few classes saw their median earnings
increase to close to $12,000 per year. The greatest payoff was for those who received
a full associates degree, who had their median earnings increase to $19,000 per year.
See Anita Mathur, Judy Reichle, Julie Strawn, and Check Wisely, From Jobs to Careers,
Howe California Community College Credentials Pay Off For Welfare Participants, Center
on Law and Social Policy, May 2004.
The higher earnings attributable to the associates degree are consistent with
information discussed earlier for the general population. It is important to note,
however, that the findings of this study do not reflect the impact of providing
vocational education as a welfare-to-work approach. They could reflect the
characteristics and motivations of those who chose to attend community college. As
discussed below, some of these recipients might have attended college on their own
without the encouragement or requirement of TANF work participation rules.
Additionally, it does not compare the earnings increase of those in vocational
education with recipients in other types of programs (for example, “work-first”
programs that encourage rapid job entry and accrual of skills on the job that also
translate into higher earnings). There is some research on measuring the impact of
education-focused programs, which is discussed below. However, the research tends
not to be very specific regarding vocational education.
The Impact of Programs: Findings from the National
Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS)
There has been an ongoing debate about whether policies that promote rapid
attachment to a job (“work-first”) or provide up-front investments in education or
training prior to entering the labor force (“education-focused”) are more effective in
moving families from welfare to work. The National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work
Strategies (NEWWS), conducted in the 1990s, was designed to provide policy makers
with a way of comparing program impacts of “work-first” programs versus programs
intended to permit recipients to engage in education before entering the labor force.22
The major research sites in NEWWS were in Atlanta, Georgia; Grand Rapids,
Michigan; Riverside, California; and Portland, Oregon. In Atlanta, Grand Rapids, and
Riverside, “work-first” programs were run side-by-side with education-focused
programs, so that the outcomes of the two programs could be compared on the same
population while operating in the same economic environment. Vocational education
was a component of the education-focused programs and available to participants who
met the entrance requirements for such training. In all three sites there was also a
control group that was not subject to participation mandates, though they could
receive education and employment services on their own. Portland’s evaluated
program had a strong employment focus, but allowed caseworkers discretion in
assigning recipients to short-term training as a first activity.
Figure 8 shows the impact of the evaluated programs on earnings over a fiveyear followup period (five years after being assigned to the program).23 Those
assigned in either “work-first” or “education-focused” programs did better than those
not assigned to both types of programs. (The exception was Grand Rapid’s education
— focused program. The shown $846 increase in earnings in the Grand Rapids
See U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of
Education, National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies. How Effective are Different
Welfare -to-Work Approaches? Five Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven Programs,
Washington, DC, Dec. 2001.
A review of this research can be found in: U.S. Congress, House Committee on Ways and
Means, “Appendix L: Assessing the Effects of Welfare Reform Initiatives,” 2004 Green
Book, WMCP 108-6, available at [http://waysandmeans.house.gov/].
program is small enough that it could have been produced by chance.) Thus, the
research provides evidence that education focused approaches do help families move
from welfare to work. However, the figure also shows that the education-focused
programs did not outperform the “work-first” programs. That is, despite an up-front
investment in education, the earnings gain from education-focused programs did not
exceed that of “work-first” programs. Furthermore, neither the “work first” or
“education-focused” programs raised incomes as the gains in earnings produced by the
programs were insufficient to offset the loss of cash welfare and food stamps as
families moved from welfare-to-work.
Figure 8. Earning Impacts from Selected Programs in the National
Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS)
Increase in Average Earnings Over 5 years
* Denotes that the impact is “statistically significant.” That is, it is large enough so that it is unlikely
the reported impact was observed by chance.
Source: Figure prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) based on data from the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies: How
Effective are Different Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven
Programs, Dec. 2001.
The Portland Program. The evaluated NEWWS program in Portland,
Oregon has garnered special attention because of its relatively large impacts,
increasing employment and earnings and reducing welfare receipt. Though generally
classified as a “work-first” program (and classified as such in Figure 8), the Portland
program took a modified work-first approach allowing caseworkers flexibility in
assigning recipients to short-term, up-front education or training before requiring them
to enter the labor force. Portland’s program did not have a statistically significant
impact on participation in vocational education.
In addition to allowing up-front short term education, there were other features
of the program that could have affected its impact (for example, counseling recipients
to wait for a “good job” rather than to take the first available job), and it is not
possible to determine the relative impacts of allowing short-term education versus
other features of Portland’s program. Moreover, caution should be used when
comparing impacts of different programs across sites: factors other than differences
in the program (e.g., economy, demographic makeup of the community) could interact
with a program and affect reported impacts. Additionally, despite the relatively large
impacts of increased employment and earnings, the Portland program (like other
programs) failed to raise incomes.
What Do the NEWWS Findings Say About Vocational
The findings from NEWWS and similar evaluations have cast doubt about the
effectiveness of education and training in welfare-to-work programs. Though in the
general population those with higher levels of educational attainment earn more,
education-focused programs failed to produce evidence that they could achieve better
outcomes for recipients than “work-first” programs. There are explanations for why
an education-focused program’s results might not produce the expected improvement
in earnings. The earnings outcomes in the general population are mostly the result of
voluntary, private decisions regarding the level of investment individuals chose, given
their motivations, abilities, and economic means to pursue their education. The
NEWWS findings reflect the impact of a mandatory program in which recipients were
assigned to programs and required to participate in activities. However, there are
caveats to making inferences from the NEWWS findings to specific policy questions
involving vocational educational training.
The education-focused program generally increased participation in adult basic
education, but not vocational education. The only program to increase participation
in vocational education was Atlanta’s education-focused program. Further, none of
the “work-first” programs decreased participation in vocational education. Therefore,
since the education-focused programs generally failed to increase or decrease
participation in vocational education, the impacts of such programs generally cannot
be attributable to vocational education. Adult basic education programs generally
would convey a GED as an educational credential if successfully completed, and
research has found that GEDs tend to raise earnings above those of other high school
drop-outs, but not to the level of other high school graduates.24
The lack of increased participation in vocational education through an educationfocused program can be attributable to at least two factors. First, many cash assistance
recipients lack a high school diploma and therefore do not have the prerequisites for
postsecondary vocational education. Second, the lack of an increase in vocational
education does not mean that, among those who actually had the prerequisites for
The potential benefits of obtaining a GED are summarized in Murnane et al., Who Benefits
from Obtaining a GED? They also are discussed in J.H. Tyler, R.J. Murnane, and J.B.
Willett, Estimating the Impact of the GED on the Earnings of Young Dropouts Using a
Series of Natural Experiments, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No.
6319. (Feb. 1998).
postscondary vocational education, few engaged in vocational education. Even in the
absence of a program, a fairly large share of welfare recipients with a high school
diploma participated in vocational training (ranging from 27% to 29% in the control
group in the Atlanta, Grand Rapids, Riverside, and Portland sites). This should not
be surprising, since many cash assistance recipients are young women of the age when
furthering their education is common. The relatively high rate of participation in
vocational education in the absence of the program (in the control group) dilutes the
measured impact of the program.
Further, the research on education-focused programs measures the impact of
programs that provide education and training, not the impact of education and training
per se. That is, it reflects assignment to a program rather than participation in
education-related activities. Some who were assigned to an education-focused
program did not participate in educational activities at all — they might have found
a job and left the welfare rolls before commencing an activity, were subsequently
deferred or exempted from activities, or failed to participate in an activity (and in
mandatory welfare-to-work programs thus sanctioned). Further, those who did
participate may not have completed an educational program.
Thus, the applicability of the NEWWS findings to the current welfare debate is
limited. They do not directly provide information on the impact of programs that
increase participation in vocational education or decrease participation in vocational
education. They also cannot tell the likely outcomes of scaling back countable time
in vocational education to four months, or increasing it to 24 months.
Different Types of Programs?
It has been learned that mandatory participation requirements — be they “workfirst” or “education-focused” programs — can be effective in moving recipients from
welfare to work. However, the limits of such policies have also been learned, as these
programs tend not to increase incomes for those who come through the welfare
system. As stated by the MDRC (an organization that has evaluated a large number
of welfare-to-work programs since the 1980s), in discussing both work-first and
Despite the successes of these programs, no program... met the long range goal
of making enrollees better off financially. Most program group members
continued to have low incomes from various combinations of earnings, the EITC
[Earned Income Tax Credit], welfare, and Food Stamps.... These findings suggest
that the challenge of the future is to identify other types of programs or initiatives
that can provide welfare recipients with better and more stable jobs, increase
their income, and improve the well-being of their children.25
The available welfare-to-work research is based on evaluations of broad-based
welfare reform strategies for most or all of the caseload. It does not address potential
targeted initiatives such as the Parents as Scholars programs as proposed in the
Senate Finance Committee bill, which, if evaluated, could provide information about
NEWWS Final Report. P. ES-4.
the impact of allowing students to complete an associate’s (two year) degree in
vocational education, compared with allowing the current law 12 months of vocational
Additionally, there has been interest in a number of different initiatives to
“blend” work experience and education together as a preemployment activity for
welfare recipients. That is, vocational education would be one part of a program that
would provide work experience for part of the week and education for other parts of
the week. Both versions of H.R. 4 would allow such a program to be fully countable
toward TANF work participation standards without any limit on that activity, as long
as at least 24 hours per week would be in work experience.26 Further, some localities
have implemented a program model called “transitional jobs” programs.27 These
programs also combine work (subsidized wage paying jobs generally in the private,
not-for-profit sector) and education, which could include vocational educational
training. Such programs, again if evaluated, could provide information about the
impact of blended work experience/education preemployment programs and whether
they could outperform traditional “work-first” programs.
GED and Postsecondary Education. As discussed above, obtaining a GED
does not substantially alleviate poverty. However, a GED does provide a credential
necessary to go on to postsecondary education, including vocational education.
Researchers found that the returns on postsecondary education and job training were
as large for GED recipients as for traditional high school graduates, but that GED
recipients generally did not enroll in such courses of study.28 An analysis of NEWWS
data found that those who received a GED were more likely to attend postsecondary
education and that the subgroup that both received a GED and received postscondary
education had better earnings outcomes than other participants.
Of course, in the context of a welfare-to-work program, having participants both
obtain a GED and go on to postsecondary education takes time. Absent a change in
current policy, a participant who remains on the TANF cash assistance rolls for the
full period of study would be accruing time toward time limits on benefit receipt.
Postemployment Programs? Most of the focus of the currently available
welfare reform literature is about preemployment programs; that is, programs to
prepare a recipient for work before they enter jobs. There is a great deal of interest,
Other similar scenarios can be found in the House Ways and Means Committee report on
its 2002 welfare reauthorization bill. See U.S. Congress, House Committee on Ways and
Mean, Personal Responsibility, Work, and Family Promotion Act of 2002, House Report
107-460, Part 1, May 14, 2002, pp. 40-41.
See Gretchen Kirby et al., Transitional Jobs: Stepping Stones to Unsubsidized
Employment, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., Apr. 2002.
See also S. Reder, The Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, 1998, Volume I:
Chapter Four, “Adult Literacy and Postsecondary Education Students: Overlapping
Populations and Learning Trajectories.”
A va i l a b l e o n l i n e a t
[http://ncsall.gse.harvard.edu/ann_rev/chap4rev.htm]. Reder discusses the need to earn
postsecondary credentials and attain a high level of literacy proficiency to earn a livable
income. See also Murnane et al., Who Benefits from Obtaining a GED.
and some research underway, about postemployment programs — programs for
recipients who already made the transition from welfare to work to continue their
education and training.
Some welfare recipients already combine vocational educational training with
another activity, though for the majority of vocational educational training participants
it is their sole activity. Figure 9 categorizes vocational educational training recipients
by whether they also reported hours in other activities during the month. It shows that
two-thirds of those who reported participation in vocational educational training
reported that it was their sole activity for that month. However, one-third of
vocational educational training participants reported participating in another activity
during the month, most often work or a work-focused activity.
Figure 9. Vocational Education Training Participants in
FY2002: Participating in Vocational Educational Training Alone
or in Combination with Other Activities
Source: Chart prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) based on tabulations from the
FY2002 TANF national data files.
Both H.R. 4 as passed by the House and as reported from the Senate Finance
Committee would expand the counting of hours in vocational educational training if
it is done in conjunction with work. Under both bills, families that meet the 24 hour
per week requirement for “core” activities would be allowed to count any additional
hours spent in vocational educational training without limit. This is an expansion
from current law that allows vocational education to count for only 12 months under
What Do We Know About Combining Work and Vocational
Education? As discussed in the previous section, most of the available research
examines vocational education as a preparatory, preemployment activity. Currently,
research is underway to examine education as a postemployment activity for welfare
Only preliminary findings are available for one postemployment program that
attempts to provide postsecondary education in a community college (Riverside
California’s Community College). The study reported that the program (New Visions)
did result in an increase in the rate at which students took community college courses.
However, the program did not increase earnings but increased welfare receipt of
participants within two years after entering the program. Most recipients did
participate in a remedial education course offered by the program, but only 40% took
a regular community college course. The study reported that recipients experienced
difficulties in juggling work, school, and child-rearing; problems that in the past have
been reported in postemployment programs. Additional information on this program
following recipients for longer periods will be available in subsequent reports.
HHS has funded an experimental evaluation of various post-employment
strategies for cash welfare recipients and low-income families in the Employment
Retention and Advancement (ERA) evaluation. These include a program to provide
stipends to working families that also engage in education in Florida, additional
experimentation in post-employment education and training in Riverside, California,
and education and training for working welfare recipients in Los Angeles County,
California. Interim impact results from ERA are due in either 2004 or 2005; the ERA
final report is due in 2007.
There are a number of considerations in evaluating the promise of
postemployment education for recipients or former recipients of welfare. First, most
jobs in the economy are full-time jobs, and thus recipients who find work are likely
to find a job with a full-time schedule (defined as a job with usual hours of 35 per
week or more).29 Therefore, postemployment education likely involves juggling a
full-time job — not a part-time job — with family responsibilities, and education.
Research also has found that low-wage workers are less likely to be employed during
regular business hours,30 and irregular hours and job schedules could pose difficulties
when attempting to juggle work, education, and family responsibilities.
The difficulties faced by those on the cash welfare rolls who attempt to combine
work and education are not idiosyncratic to the welfare population. In the general
population, characteristics associated with nontraditional students have been found to
See CRS, Increasing Work Participation Hours Standards of Adults Receiving Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Cash Assistance by Gene Falk and Linda Levine.
Congressional Distribution Memorandum, (Available from the authors upon request.)
See Gregory Acs, Katherin Ross Phillips, and Daniel McKenzie, On the Bottom Rung:
A Profile of Americans in Low-Income Working Families, Urban Institute, Washington, DC,
be negatively related to students’ likelihood of staying in an educational program.31
And as discussed above, many students do combine education and work. However,
four of the seven characteristics that define a nontraditional student have a direct
negative effect on students’ ability to continue their studies and complete them —
delayed enrollment, part-time enrollment, financial independence, and no traditional
high school diploma. Two of the remaining characteristics, working full time during
the first year of enrollment and having dependents, were found to have an indirect
negative effect on persistence in coursework and completion, as both characteristics
may contribute to delayed enrollment and part-time enrollment.32
In some respects the current debate over the role of vocational education is part
of an old debate. The pre-1996 program (Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training,
or JOBS, program), emphasized up-front education and training for welfare recipients.
JOBS was created in the Family Support Act of 1988. Beginning in 1989, the cash
welfare caseload began to increase, reaching a peak of 5.1 million families in March
of 1994. Dissatisfaction with the pre-1996 system led to the creation of TANF in the
1996 welfare law (however, the welfare caseload started downward before the
enactment of national welfare reform). TANF emphasizes work or work-related
activities over education, and also stresses the temporary nature of cash assistance
through the imposition of time limits. Allowing more vocational education to count
toward the participation standards could be seen as diluting TANF’s emphasis on
work, and a return to an education-focused strategy that has not been proven more
effective in moving recipients to work and increasing their earnings than the current
“work-first” philosophy of most TANF programs.
However, the TANF reauthorization debate on education is taking place in a very
different context than in previous debates. The pre-TANF cash welfare program was
an open-ended matching grant; TANF limits funding, so that states are encouraged to
provide cost-effective ways of moving families off the rolls as quickly as possible to
help free up funding for other uses. The evaluated programs to date still point to
“work-first” programs as more cost-effective than “education-focused” programs for
moving families from welfare to work. Even if the TANF work participation rules
were liberalized so that more education could be countable toward the participation
standards, pressures from other features of TANF (especially the fixed block grant)
would likely deter states from adopting strategies that fail to efficiently move families
from welfare to work. The experience under TANF to date also would indicate that
if allowed, states are unlikely to recast their work program as an education and
training program. States have been generally operating under much reduced (by the
caseload reduction credit) standards, but still have generally maintained a “work first”
ED, Nontraditional Undergraduates, and U.S. Department of Education, National Center
for Education Statistics, (2003), Work First, Study Second: Adult Undergraduates Who
Combine Employment and Postsecondary Enrollment, NCES 2003-167 (Hereafter cited
ED, Work First).
ED, Nontraditional Undergraduates.
Additionally, the reauthorization proposals would allow states to count hours in
vocational education without limit if recipients are pursuing this training on a parttime basis while also working. This is particularly important in light of the fact that
many postsecondary students today are nontraditional students — some working while
attending school parttime.
Further, TANF aids populations other than those just receiving TANF cash
assistance. It is consistent with the purposes of TANF to help support the education
and training of low-income, working parents who are not on the benefit rolls.
Unfortunately, little is known about whether states are taking advantage of TANF’s
flexibility to provide such supports. There has been little mention in the
reauthorization debate of the potential of TANF in helping low-income persons in
families with children obtain college degrees that could help them advance to better
jobs with higher levels of earnings.
Despite all the experience and research on welfare reform over the past decades,
there is still little that can be said specifically about what the likely effects of
restricting, maintaining, or expanding vocational educational training would be on the
earnings, welfare receipt, and income of cash assistance recipients. The last policy
goal — raising incomes — has eluded most evaluated preemployment welfare-towork strategies.33 Determining whether different types of educational programs — be
they limited expansions of postsecondary education such as Parents as Scholars,
“blended” programs of work experience or subsidized employment and education, or
postemployment education — can achieve the aim of raising incomes would require
states to experiment with these approaches to provide the additional experience and
research necessary to evaluate them. If Congress wishes to allow such
experimentation, welfare reform reauthorization policies could include federal work
participation rules that allow or even encourage states to undertake such
experimentation, include demonstration authority (waiver of regular work
participation rules) for such experimentation, and/or provide financial help to evaluate
The exceptions are programs that increased incomes by increasing welfare receipt by
allowing working families to keep more of their welfare check when they get a job and
increase earnings. Note that many TANF programs have adopted such liberalized “earnings
Appendix A. Descriptions of State Vocational
Educational Training Activities
TANF law lists 12 activities that are creditable toward meeting federal work
participation standards. Neither the law nor regulations further define these activities;
therefore, states are left to define what is meant by a work activity such as “vocational
States are required to report to HHS how they define each of the creditable TANF
work activities in their annual program reports. This is not currently a statutory
requirement, but one made by regulations. The pending welfare reform
reauthorization bills would make these reports a statutory requirement. Table A1.
provides this information by state. The descriptions provided by states vary
considerably in both length and detail. The table shows the information reported by
states, with only some slight editing.
Table A1. State Definitions of Vocational Educational Training
Under the TANF Program
This activity includes any of the following:
1. Competency-based applied learning that contributes to a client’s academic
knowledge, higher-order reasoning and problem-solving skills, life skills,
work attitudes, employability skills, and occupation-specific skills through
organized educational programs of sequenced courses. These courses should
provide individuals with technical skills and academic knowledge needed for
success in current or emerging employment sectors.
2. Any formal instruction in a skill or trade, traditionally referred to as job
skills training, determined by the case manager to be other than purely
academic in nature that prepares the client for a vocation, for example,
technical programs designed to prepare a client for a specific occupation,
including, but not limited to, nursing, plumbing, electrical, auto mechanics
and barbering. It is limited to education that leads to useful employment in
a recognized occupation. Training is available to clients through
vocational/technical schools, and some colleges.
3. Training programs provided through the Alabama Department of
Vocational training provides participants with marketable job skills for paid
work. Participants with few job skills, outdated job skills, or skills no longer
in demand may benefit from training designed to bring their qualifications in
line with those required by local employers.
Job skills training involves participation in an organized educational program
that directly relates to preparation for employment. This training gives the
participant specialized knowledge, abilities, and job skills. Depending on the
program and the participant’s expected goals, job skills training may be as
elaborate as an apprenticeship program or as simple as a job sampling
College education or postsecondary education prepares a participant for
professional or para-professional occupations consistent with their
employment goals. It is expected that the education will prepare the
individual to enter paid employment that quickly allows them to leave
Vocational education/training is directly related to a career or occupation.
Vocational education/training includes individuals already enrolled in
education/training at the time of registration in the Jobs Program, as well as
those participating in educational or training activities as assigned through
the Occupational Training Referral process after entering the Jobs Program.
Vocational educational training is postsecondary education, including, at
least, programs at two or four year colleges, universities, technical institutes
and vocational schools which is in a field directly related to employment.
Only 12 months of vocational education is counted for purposes of the
federal rate calculation. An individual client is allowed to engage in
vocational education for a longer period of time for purposes of his or her
individual work requirement if it has been determined that is the best plan for
that client to move toward self-sufficiency. However, any months in excess
of 12 are not counted for the federal rate.
Programs including, but not limited to, those offered through colleges,
community colleges, adult education, and regional occupation centers.
Short-term educational activity intended to prepare an individual for
employment. Vocational educational training shall not exceed 12 months
with respect to any individual. Providers of this training include community
colleges, postsecondary institutions, proprietary schools, and non-profit
Formal occupational skills training conducted in a classroom setting, in a
workplace setting, or in some combination of the two.
Defined as education for a specific job skill, e.g., nursing, child care worker,
Programs which assist TANF recipients learn skills needed to succeed in the
workplace. Examples include programs which link basic skills training with
training for particular jobs.
Vocational education or training is education or training designed to provide
participants with the skills and certification necessary for employment in an
occupational area. Vocational education or training may be used as a
primary program activity for participants when it has been determined that
the individual has demonstrated compliance with other phases of program
participation and successful completion of the vocational education or
training is likely to result in employment entry at a higher wage than the
participant would have been likely to attain without completion of the
vocational education or training. Vocational education or training may be
combined with other program activities and also may be used to upgrade
skills or prepare for a higher paying occupational area for a participant who
1. Unless otherwise provided in this section, vocational education shall not
be used as the primary program activity for a period which exceeds 12
months. The 12-month restriction applies to instruction in a career education
program and does not include remediation of basic skills, including English
language proficiency, if remediation is necessary to enable a participant to
benefit from a career education program. Any necessary remediation must
be completed before a participant is referred to vocational education as the
primary work activity. In addition, use of vocational education or training
shall be restricted to the limitation established in federal law. Vocational
education included in a program leading to a high school diploma shall not
be considered vocational education for purposes of TANF.
2. When possible, a provider of vocational education or training shall use
funds provided by funding sources other than the regional workforce board.
The regional workforce board may provide additional funds to a vocational
education or training provider only if payment is made pursuant to a
performance-based contract. Under a performance-based contract, the
provider may be partially paid when a participant completes education or
training, but the majority of payment shall be made following the
participant’s employment at a specific wage or job retention for a specific
Training that will provide the participant with a specific job skill.
Individual under the age of 20 who has a high school diploma or GED or an
individual age 20 or older who is in occupational or skills training of 12
months or less. Academic training may be counted if: the training will lead
directly to employment such as teaching, nursing, etc., and the individual is
participating in other activities including employment. Individual age 20 or
older attending Adult Basic Education, GED preparation courses or English
as a second language classes. Does not include work finding activities such
as resume classes, how to interview, etc.
Vocational Training: Usually short-term programs that prepare client for a
specific type of work. Includes vocationally focused ESL/GED or ESL/GED
directly related to employment.
Vocational Postsecondary Education: An associate or bachelor degree
program that qualifies the client for a specific job or field of work.
Vocational Education is a short-term training activity that leads to the
acquisition of competencies directly related to specific trade, occupation or
Classroom training — Postsecondary education and any other academic or
vocational training course of study that prepares the individual for a specific
profession or vocational area of employment. Also listed under vocational
education are ESL and adult basic education.
This is an intensive skill-specific vocational curriculum. This activity may
include post-secondary education.
No description provided. (Limited to 12 months per individual; 30% of
Not to exceed 12 months. Includes postsecondary educational training
(excluding two and four year degree programs, which are covered under the
Parents as Scholars component), customized occupational skills training,
skills training, certificate courses, and teaching certificates. Activities are to
provide specific workplace skills to enhance employability.
Hours automatically include study hours (1.5 times the hours in the
educational program) as long as a recipient is satisfactorily participating.
This category includes instruction in an institutional or work-site setting,
designed to upgrade a person’s technical skills and information required to
perform a broad array of related jobs. A person may participate in vocational
education activities for a maximum of 12 months.
Vocational occupational training, condensed vocational training programs,
internships, practicums, and clinicals.
This activity includes college, vocational school, business school, community
college, trade school, university and internships.
An organized educational program which offers a sequence of courses
directly related to the preparation of individuals for employment in current
or emerging occupations that do not require a baccalaureate or advanced
degree. Such programs shall include competency based applied learning
which contributes to an individual’s academic knowledge, higher-order
reasoning, and problem-solving skills, work attitudes, general employability
skills, and the occupational-specific skills necessary for obtaining
employment and becoming self-sufficient.
Participation in programs offered through colleges, universities, community
colleges, or other entity offering a course of study that leads toward a degree,
certificate or license. Graduate programs are not a countable work activity.
Short-term Skills Training — Activities which include vocational training in
technical job skills and equivalent knowledge and abilities in a specific
occupational area. The training lasts for six months or less.
Postsecondary education is limited to that which is directly related to the
fulfillment of an individual’s vocational goal, and must be completed within
the 24 month time limit of eligibility. Only those occupations that can be
demonstrated to be marketable and be anticipated to pay a wage that will lead
the family to economic independence are approved and included in the SelfSufficiency Contract. Postgraduate programs are not allowed.
Vocational skills training is an activity that is defined as instruction
conducted at an institutional or worksite setting to provide or upgrade the
technical skills required to perform a specific job or group of jobs for an
individual, including job specific competency training, job specific school-to
work programs, on-site industry — specific training, customized training,
entrepreneurial training, cooperative education or professional and vocational
education. (Cooperative education experiences are typically connected to
employment whereby individuals participate in work place experiences.)
This is an activity involving institutional or other classroom training
conducted by an instructor in either a worksite or non-worksite setting.
Participants receive instruction in specific occupational areas which reflect
the current local labor market demand. Providers of this type of activity
include, but are not limited to, community based organizations, private-forprofits, community/county colleges, vocational-technical schools, Work
Investment Boards, and adult high schools. This activity is not utilized for
more than 12 months for any TANF individual. Work related educational
enhancements: Work-related educational enhancements lead to recognized
careers for which there is or will be a demand in the job market (as defined
by the NJ Department of Labor), and include programs that are offered at
community colleges as well as postsecondary vocational training programs.
Postsecondary education is directly related to work and is combined with
approved work activities including employment.
A work activity which involves organized educational programs offering
courses which are directly related to the preparation of individuals for
employment, including but not limited to competency-based applied learning,
higher-order reasoning, problem solving skills and occupational-specific
skills necessary for economic independence.
A short-term educational activity that leads to preparation for a specific
vocation. Likely providers of vocational educational training include, but are
not limited to: community colleges, post secondary institutions, and nonprofit organizations. Participation and support in graduate and post-graduate
programs is not counted.
An unpaid work activity that offers an organized sequence of coursework
directly related to preparation of a participant for employment in a current or
emerging occupation. The state allows individuals to participate in vocational
education for a maximum of 24 months but only 12 months are counted when
calculating the federal work participation rate.
A program of education and training with a goal of enabling an individual to
obtain employment. Includes college, technical, vocational, or other course
work leading toward a degree, certificate, or license. Study time may be
included in this activity.
Experience to develop technical skills, knowledge, and abilities in specific
occupational areas. This can include practicum placements, internships, or
A specific curriculum of training provided by an accredited training
organization, which is designed to prepare a recipient for a specific
occupation. Only counts in first 24 months of assistance.
Vocational training is skills training for a specific occupational area
conducted by an instructor in a non worksite or classroom setting for 12
months or less.
Job Skill/Vocational Training: Activities are designed to provide training for
jobs, which are specific for entry-level positions. They are non-degree
programs, which are less than one year in duration and provide trainees with
certificates of mastery in skill areas, which meet the needs of employers
throughout the state. These areas may include certified nursing assistants,
phlebotomists, computer basics (word processing, spreadsheets, data entry),
banking/financial services, information technology, etc.).
Postsecondary Vocational Education: Activities within this category are
intended to result in full-time employment at wages sufficient to eliminate
eligibility for cash assistance. Each participant must be tested utilizing
industry accepted instruments and must score at or above 9.0 for reading,
mathematics, and language levels. Those approved for such activities must
maintain a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 or above.
Training for a participant in technical job skills and equivalent knowledge
and abilities in a specific occupational area.
Vocational training provides a recipient with the skills and a certification
needed to become employed in a specific occupational area.
Vocational training has been identified as two levels. Level I includes courses
at the traditional Vocational Technical Institutes. In addition, vocational
courses offered through four-year institutions or community colleges are also
recognized. Full time status as defined by the institution meets participation
requirements. Level 2 vocational (occupational) education includes courses
recognized by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and/or offered at Career
Learning Centers. Courses must be at least 20 hours per week.
Characteristics of Vocational Training include The program must be
consistent with the individual’s personal responsibility plan and is directed
toward a goal of employment. The training should prepare the participant for
a job within the shortest reasonable time frame. The job outlook in the local
labor market should be favorable or else the participant must agree to
relocate. Students should be in full-time or at least a 20 hour week course
and maintain acceptable academic performance in accordance with the
standards of the institution.
Vocational postsecondary education and vocational rehabilitation training.
Vocational Educational Training relates to the types of jobs available in the
labor market and is consistent with the employment goals identified in the
individual’s employability plan and is time-limited.
Counts at either 30 hours per week (12 months lifetime) or a combination of
20 hours/week plus 10 in training/school. Includes: employment-related
education, applied technology.
Effective July 1, 2001, vocational educational training (not to exceed 12
months with respect to any individual) means training designed to provide the
participant with skills or certification in an area of study necessary for the
participant to obtain a job available in a geographic area where the
participant is willing to relocate within three months of completion of the
vocational program. Examples of vocational education include licensed
practical nurse training and auto mechanic training.
General, theoretical, and/or practical instruction provided to a customer in a
particular skill or discipline that would help make the customer more
Certificate/associate degree program or skills training with a specific
Not to exceed 12 months.
Vocational Education is limited to courses that provide employment skills.
It may be used to meet work participation requirements for no more than 12
months. Up to 12 months at a community college or college may be
considered vocational education if the classes are for a vocational related
Technical College Activities — This activity is reported for Community
Service Jobs and Transitional participants enrolled full-time (up to 15 hours
per week) in a technical college program and who meet working or other
participation requirements. Study time does not count.
Non-required Education and Training — This activity is reported when an
individual is participating in an educational activity, which is not required by
the work program. It assists the case manager in tracking individuals who are
voluntarily participating in additional educational activities.
Vocational training can be approved when: the training is directly related to
the preparation of the job seeker for employment in a nonprofessional career
or the training will upgrade skills for a nonprofessional career; or assessment
shows the job seeker needs the training to progress toward employment or
self-sufficiency; or it is the first training program for the job seeker; or the
job seeker is upgrading skills to obtain or maintain certification or
employment; and the labor market assessment shows the job seeker
understands the job requirements and has done research to determine if jobs
are available in the training area; and the job seeker agrees to relocate if jobs
are not readily available in the home area.
While in training, the job seeker must maintain full-time enrollment and a
“C” grade average or equivalent and complete the program within 12 months.
Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS) based on data from annual TANF state program
reports and state plans.
Appendix B. Detailed Rules on Counting
Participation in “Vocational Educational Training”
Toward TANF Work Participation Standards
TANF sets minimum work participation rate standards that a state must meet. A
state must have a minimum percentage of its families with an adult or teen head of
household recipient be considered “engaged in work,” or the state is subject to
Under TANF, a cash welfare recipient must work in a creditable work activity
for a minimum number of hours to be considered “engaged in work.” Current federal
law lists 12 creditable work activities that recipients may engage in which count
toward meeting TANF work participation standards, one of which is “vocational
The rules for determining whether a recipient is engaged in work are fairly
technical and complex under both current law and pending welfare reauthorization
legislation. This appendix details these rules.
Current Law Rules
The work activities creditable toward meeting TANF participation standards can
be classified into two categories:
“Core” activities. These activities represent the main thrust of the
work standard and are expected to be either the sole or primary
activities for TANF participants. The general TANF standard
requires at least 30 hours per week in work, with at least 20 of these
hours in a set of “core” activities.
Supplemental activities. These activities are creditable only after the
core 20-hour per week requirement is met, and can count for meeting
the additional 10 hour per week requirement.
Vocational Educational Training as an Activity. Table B1. lists the 12
activities creditable toward current law TANF participation standards, showing the
nine “core” activities and the three additional supplemental activities. Most of the
core activities focus on work or activities designed to move a family into work quickly
(e.g., job search). The notable exception to the work focus of core activities is
vocational educational training. All supplemental activities are education-related.
Note that for single parents with a preschool child (more than half of all TANF adult
recipients), only 20 hours per week in creditable activities, core or supplemental, is
required to meet participation standards.34
TANF law is ambiguous as to whether all 20 hours must be in “core” activities. As the
program has been administered, however, the Department of Health and Human Services
(HHS) has allowed states to deem a single parent with a child under the age of six as a full
participant, if she has 20 hours per week in any creditable TANF activity.
Table B1. TANF Creditable Work Activities Under Current Law
(General rule: at least 20
hours per week must be
in core activities.)
Subsidized private sector employment;
Subsidized public sector employment;
Job search and readiness (usual limit of six
weeks per fiscal year);
Vocational educational training (limited to 12
months in a lifetime); and
Caring for a child of a recipient in community
! Job skills training directly related to
! Education directly related to employment (for
those without high school or equivalent degree);
! Completion of a secondary school program (for
those without a high school or equivalent
Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS).
Note: There are special rules for “deeming” a family to be engaged in work for single parents with a
child under the age of six and teen parents. Single parents with a child under the age of six can be
deemed engaged in work with 20 hours per week in creditable activities. Teen parents can be deemed
engaged in work with 20 hours per week of education directly related to employment or progress
toward completion of a secondary school program.
Current Law Limits on Counting Vocational Educational Training.
Vocational educational training is a creditable TANF work activity, but states are
limited in counting recipients engaged in vocational educational training in two ways:
Vocational educational training counts toward a state’s work
participation standard for only 12 months in a recipient’s lifetime.
In total, no more than 30% of families determined to be engaged in
work (participants) in any month may be considered engaged in work
through: (a) vocational educational training; or (b) being a teen
parent deemed engaged in work through specified educational
The 30% limit does not say that a state can have up to 30% of its caseload
engaged in education. Rather, it says that up to 30% of those who meet the federal
hours standards in creditable activities may consist of families with members engaged
through vocational educational training or teen parents deemed engaged through
education. Thus, the number of available educational “slots” depends on the number
Specifically, teen parents without a high school diploma may be deemed as engaged in
work (counted as a participant) through either: (a) 20 hours per week of participation in
education directly related to employment; or (b) satisfactory progress toward completing
of families actually engaged (or deemed engaged) in work. Additionally, since the
30% cap applies to the sum of families engaged in work through educational
activities, “slots” taken up by teen parents reduce the number of “slots” available for
vocational educational training.
Box B1. provides an example of how the 30% cap works using a hypothetical
example of a state with 100 families on the rolls under two scenarios: a state with a
50% participation rate and a state with a 20% participation rate. It is also assumed
that three families are considered participating through having a teen parent deemed
engaged in work through education. As shown in the first scenario, if 50 of the
families are engaged in work (50% participation rate), only 30% of those families (15
families or 15% of the total caseload) may be engaged in work through education. Of
these 15 families, three are participating by virtue of having a teen parent deemed
engaged in work through education, leaving 12 slots for participation in vocational
educational training. The second scenario shows a state with a 20% participation rate.
Of the 20 families participating, 30% (six families or 6% of the total caseload) may
be engaged in work through education. Of these six families, three have teen parents
deemed engaged in work through education. Therefore, there remain only three “slots”
available for vocational educational training.
Box B1. Example of How the 30% Limit On Participation
Through Education Works
Example of how the 30% limit works in a hypothetical state with 100 families on
the rolls and three families participating by virtue of a teen parent deemed
engaged in work through education.
State with a 50%
State with a 20%
Line 1. Total families
Line 2. Participating
Line 4. Teen Parents
Virtue of Education
Line 5. Available
“Slots” for Vocational
(Line 3 minus line 4)
Line 3. Limit on
(30% of Line 2)
Note that the 30% limit does not apply to education done as a supplemental
activity. It applies only to vocational education done as a core activity and education
for teen parents that is used to totally fulfill participation requirements for that group.
Teen Parents and the Vocational Educational Training Cap. In
FY2002, an estimated 21 states reached the 30% vocational educational training cap
in at least one month during a fiscal year (though none reached the cap in all months).
In many cases, this was because the participation rates in states were relatively low.
As shown in Box 1, states with low participation rates can reach the cap with
relatively few participants in education. The pending proposals would require such
states to increase participation, thereby increasing the number of “slots” available for
The House-passed version of H.R. 4 and the Senate Finance Committee
substitute for that measure would both make substantial revisions to TANF work
participation standards, including the treatment of vocational educational training.
The House bill would raise the required hours of participation to 40 per week and
require all parents, regardless of the age of their children, to meet the requirement.
The Senate Finance Committee bill would raise the required hours to 24 per week for
single parents with a preschool child and to 34 hours per week for other single parents
(higher hours requirements apply to two parent families). Partial credit is given for
hours below these standards in both bills. Both bills would raise the hours required
in core activities from 20 to 24 hours per week.
Both bills retain the concept of core and supplemental activities, but also
establish a new set of creditable activities:
“Qualified” activities. States could count “qualified activities” as
substitutes for core activities to meet the 24-hour per week
requirement for a limited period of time — three months in a 24month period. The House bill allows a fourth month during the 24month period to complete a program; the Senate bill allows an
additional three months of rehabilitative activities36 if combined in
the additional three months with work.
Vocational Educational Training in the House-Passed Bill. The Housepassed bill would eliminate vocational educational training and job search from the
list of core activities. Instead, states may define vocational educational training as a
“qualified activity.” Thus, it is only as a qualified activity that states could count the
The Senate Finance Committee bill would allow the extra three months of qualified
activities for the following rehabilitative activities: adult literacy programs, participation
in a program designed to increase proficiency in the English language, and activities for an
individual who has been found to have a physical or mental disability, substance abuse
problem, or problem that requires a rehabilitative service (rehabilitative service is defined
by the state).
participation of a full-time vocational educational training student who is not engaged
in work-related activities for 24 hours per week.
Under the House-passed bill, states define qualified activities: states could
designate any TANF-purposeful activity, including vocational education as a qualified
activity. As a qualified activity, vocational educational training would countable for
a maximum of three months in a 24-month period. A fourth month would be allowed
if needed to complete a vocational educational training program.
Under the House bill, it is important to consider what other activities would
count as “qualified activities” but not as regular core activities in addition to
vocational education. For example, job search would not be a regular core activity,
but would be countable as a state-defined qualified activity. Thus, any time spent in
job search, which is often used as the first activity assigned to a recipient in a “workfirst” program, would be subtracted from the time allowed for vocational educational
training to count as a qualified activity.
The House bill also permits states to define supplemental activities countable
after a recipient has met the 24 hour per week core work requirement. Here too, a
state would have the discretion to define vocational education as a supplemental
activity. If the state does so, vocational education when combined with at least 24
hours per week of core work activity can be counted without limits.
Vocational Educational Training in the Senate Finance Committee
Bill. The Senate Finance Committee bill retains the current law list of activities
countable toward the “core” requirement, including vocational educational training
limited to 12 months in a lifetime. It also retains the current law’s 30% cap on
participation by virtue of vocational educational training or teen parents deemed
engaged in work through education.
Additionally, the bill would add vocational educational training to the list of
supplemental activities. Further, vocational educational training as a supplemental
activity combined with at least 24 hours of core work activity would be counted
without regard to both the 12 month lifetime limit and the 30% cap, both of which
would apply only to vocational educational training as a core activity.
The Senate Finance Committee bill lists five new sets of qualified activities: (1)
postsecondary education; (2) adult literacy programs or activities; (3) substance abuse
counseling or treatment; (4) programs or activities designed to remove barriers to
work, as defined by the states; and (5) work activities operated under a waiver of pre1996 welfare reform rules, but continued by the state under TANF. Though vocational
education is not among the new “qualified activities” that would be created in the bill,
postsecondary education is such a new qualified activity. Therefore, postsecondary
education of any type, including vocational education, would be countable for three
months out of a 24-month period in addition to the 12 months over a lifetime allowed
for vocational educational training.
Under the Senate Finance Committee bill, job search also remains a core activity.
Therefore, time spent in one of the new qualified activities or job search would not
subtract from the time available for vocational educational training to count.
Senate Finance Committee Bill: Parents as Scholars. The Senate
Finance Committee version of H.R. 4 also includes a provision to allow up to 10% of
a state’s total caseload to participate in a two year or four year educational program
and have that participation counted toward TANF work participation standards.37 The
program would be patterned after a program operating in Maine and other states,
known as the Parents as Scholars program. It would require participation in a two
year or four year degree program or enrollment in a vocational educational training
program. The bill contains rules for the hours and activities (including education,
study time, and work) required for credit toward the participation standards.
Vocational educational training undertaken in Parents as Scholars would not be
subject to the 12-month limitation that generally applies to this activity.
Summary Comparison of Current Law and Proposed Bills’
Treatment of Vocational Educational Training. Table B2. compares the
treatment of vocational educational training under current law, the House-passed
version of H.R. 4, and the Senate Finance Committee substitute version of H.R. 4.
The table does not detail the rules for the Senate Finance Committee’s Parents as
Scholars program, which could include vocational education but also includes
participation in two and four year colleges (generally associate’s or bachelor’s
Note that the House-passed bill would eliminate the 30% cap, but restrict
vocational education to a time-limited qualified activity. The Senate Finance
Committee version of H.R. 4 retains the 30% cap, but does not apply that limitation
to vocational education creditable as a supplemental (part-time) activity or to
postsecondary education as a qualified activity.
The 10% of the caseload cap on participation in Parents as Scholars is separate from the
30% cap on fulfilling work requirements through vocational educational training. That is,
Parents as Scholars participants would not count toward the 30% cap. Moreover, the cap
is different: the 10% cap on participation in Parents as Scholars is computed as a percent
of the state’s total caseload, not the percent of those engaged in work.
Table B2. Vocational Educational Training as a TANF Work
Activity: Current Law Compared with the House-Passed and
Senate Finance Committee Versions of H.R. 4
version of H.R. 4
of H.R. 4
countable for up to 12
months in a lifetime
(minimum 20 hour
per week core
educational training is
(minimum 24 hour
countable for up to 12
months in a lifetime
(minimum 24 hour
per week core
(creditable to meet
during a limited
period of time)
No provision for
may be defined by the
state as a qualified
activity for three
months in a 24-month
period. A fourth
month is allowed if
needed to complete a
Not a “qualified
education (which may
countable for three
months in a 24-month
after “core” hours
Hours in vocational
toward meeting the
full participation for
only 12 months.
Hours in vocational
are countable without
limit as a state —
defined activity after
the minimum 24 hour
per week “core”
activity requirement is
met. No time limit on
countable as a
without regard to the
12-month limit after
the minimum 24 hour
per week “core”
Up to 30% of families
engaged in work may
be so counted by
virtue of participation
education or being a
teen parent deemed
engaged in work
No numerical limit.
Retains current law
counted as a “core”
toward the 30% limit.
as a supplemental
as a qualified activity
is exempt from this
Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS).
Impact of Removing Teen Parents from the 30% Cap
A number of welfare reauthorization bills would remove teen parents from the
30% cap on fulfilling work requirements through education. In the 107th Congress,
the Senate Finance Committee approved bill (H.R. 4737) would have removed teen
parents from the cap.
Nationally, in FY2002 there were 12,000 teen parents deemed “participating” by
virtue of education. If teen parents were removed from the 30% cap, an additional
12,000 vocational education slots would be opened up nationwide. Though this is a
relatively small number of slots relative to the national caseload, the percent of the
caseload comprised of teen parents varies greatly by state. Thus, the effect of
removing teen parents from the 30% cap would vary by state.
Table B3. shows the state-by-state effect of removing teen parents from the cap,
based on the FY2002 participation in educational activities of teen parents. It
illustrates this based on the participation rules that would be established in the Senate
Finance Committee version of H.R. 4 (including new exemptions allowed under that
bill) and assumes that a state meets a 50% participation standard (the minimum
effective participation standard under that bill after considering credits against the
statutory 70% work participation standard that would be in effect in FY2008).
The second column shows the number of families that would be included in the
participation calculation: that is, families with an adult or minor head of household
minus families that are excluded from the calculation because they include an infant,
are in the first month of assistance, are subject to a sanction, or are in an Indian tribal
program (exemptions allowed in the bill). The third column shows 50% of those
families — the number of families that would have to participate to meet the 50%
standard. The fourth column shows the number of available education “slots”: 30%
of the third column (number of families that would have to participate). The fifth
column is the number of teen parents deemed engaged in work because of education
in FY2002. If participation among teen parents is the same in future years as in
FY2002, this would be the number of education slots that would be freed by removing
teen parents from the calculation in each state. If the proposal were adopted, all
available education slots could be used by participants in vocational educational
training. The final column shows the percent increase in available slots for vocational
educational training by removing teen parents from the 30% cap.
Table B3. Illustration of the Effect of Removing Teen Parents
from the 30% Cap for Vocational Education and Teen Parents
Deemed Engaged in Work through Education
(Based on FY2002 Participation)
families at a
engaged in Vocational
families at a
“Slots” for diploma
education engaged in Vocational
and teen education education
Source: CRS tabulations of data from the TANF FY2002 data files.
Appendix C: Average Earnings and
Educational Attainment Over Time
This appendix shows trends in average earnings by educational attainment for the
population aged 25 and older for 1975-2003. The source of the data is the annual
March Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS). Beginning in 1992, the
CPS question on educational attainment was changed so that it asked respondents
about highest grade completed or degree received; before then, educational attainment
was measured by years of schooling. The trends were not shown in the body of this
report because it is not possible to provide detail on the degree received by those who
The Census Bureau has constructed a series showing average earnings by level
of educational attainment. This series could be affected by the change in wording of
the CPS question for those with education beyond high school. For years before 1992,
the Census Bureau assumes that one to three years of college is equivalent to “some
college or receipt of an associates degree,” four years of college is equivalent to a
bachelors degree, and an advanced degree is five or more years of college.
Figure C1. shows the relationship between earnings and education for 19752001 in constant dollars. Over the period of time shown in the figure, the relationship
between earnings and education has been consistent each year — higher levels of
education are associated with higher earnings. It also demonstrates that the real
(inflation-adjusted) mean earnings of workers with less than a high school diploma
or its equivalent have declined since 1975.
Figure C1. Mean Earnings of Workers Aged 18 and Older (In Constant 2001
Dollars), By Educational Attainment: 1975-2001
Source: Figure prepared by the Congressional Research Service based on data from the U.S. Census