Congressional Committee Takes Testimony at UW-Parkside on Educational Pathways

Apr. 11, 2022 9p

(WGTD)---A Racine woman who changed careers in the middle of the pandemic after losing her food service job spoke at a congressional hearing held at UW-Parkside Monday afternoon.

The House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth has been traveling the country as it explores education-related paths that lead to the American dream.

57-year-old Sherry Carrion was one of about 160 students who enrolled in an SC Johnson-funded program at Gateway called “HOPE”—that’s an acronym for Highly-Skilled Occupations for Professional Employment. The key ingredient was that virtually all of each student’s education-related expenses—not just tuition—were covered.

After losing her food service job, Carrion earned a nursing assistant certificate and is now employed full time as a care giver. “I’m so grateful,” she said. “I don’t know what I would have done.”

CNA’s at the company she works for make up to $18 an hour. She had been working part-time without a certificate when her manager told her about the HOPE program. “If it wasn’t for my office manager, I’m not really sure I would’ve known.”

Also testifying Monday was Gateway President Bryan Albrecht who said many other opportunities exist for people who may not necessarily know about them. A two-year nursing degree can get you an annual starting salary of $60,000 while a degree in advanced manufacturing is worth between $50,000 and $55,000 to start, he said.

Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford suggested that not all students can be expected to learn at the same pace. “Many of our students today are not on a traditional path. So they are balancing family and workforce responsibilities. We need to recognize that they have a lot of competing priorities in their lives,” she said.

Albrecht urged more federal support for counseling services. “Investment in mental health at the college level would be very much appreciated and I think would add value to the decision-making that our students have to face as they go through some very difficult challenges,” he said.

In a brief interview afterward, Congressman Brian Steil said he’d like to see an even greater integration between colleges and K-12 schools and work places in a bid to reduce the skills mismatch. Steil of Janesville and Rep. Gwen Moore of Milwaukee both sit on the committee and were present for Monday's hearing. 

The House committee has been touring the country, examining various approaches to preparing workers for the changing economy.