The $2.5 billion Access and Completion Incentive Fund, or ACIF—proposed in President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2010 budget and intended to help working adults with education—needs to evaluate whether its grants are worth it to taxpayers, recognizing that its innovation will inevitably involve some failures. To do this, the ACIF should use an open-source decision-making process similar to the way LINUX allows new additions to software code. This peer-to-peer review process would involve a network of researchers, students, program implementers, and college officials who would rate elements for programs for business model innovation, efficacy, and scalability.
In this way, the lessons learned by the ACIF in these initial pilot programs could be applied nationwide very quickly. And once the scale of the ACIF program is proven to work, Congress could then move to change appropriate federal legislation to ensure that the successful project has access to more funds.
Why is it so important to move quickly? Beyond the need to help working adults caught by the current recession, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that almost 7.5 million of the 15 million net new jobs the economy will create by 2016 will require postsecondary education. Jobs requiring postsecondary education will grow by 17 percent—nearly double the rate of 8.8 percent for jobs that will not by 2016. A college credential, certificate, or degree is vital to landing good jobs. We need to start innovating now to help working adults be prepared to fill them.
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