REPORTS: Community Colleges Generate Economic Opportunity and Strengthen Competitiveness

WASHINGTON, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 27, 2010.  Today the Center for American Progress hosted Dr. Jill Biden and education experts from around the country for an informative and compelling conference on the importance of postsecondary education as a key player in reviving economic opportunity for workers and national competitiveness for the United States.  At the event, Dr. Biden said:

“For more and more people, community colleges are the way to the future. They’re giving real opportunity to students who otherwise wouldn’t have it. They’re giving hope to families who thought the American dream was slipping away. They’re opening doors to the middle class – at a time when middle class families have seen so many doors closed to them. I believe that community colleges are one of America’s best-kept secrets – and as I travel the country and speak with so many Americans – students, parents, teachers, and employers – it’s clear that the secret is getting out. We are here today because community colleges are truly entering a new day in America.”

At the event, CAP released three insightful reports that highlight ways to generate economic opportunity through innovation in our nation’s community college system.

Re-imagining the Community College

A Student-Centered Approach to Higher Education

By Brian Pusser and John Levin

Read the full report (pdf)

Download the executive summary (pdf)

Community colleges are on the brink of crisis, facing both praise and criticism on so many dimensions that it is difficult to make and overall assessment of their legitimacy. In this provocative paper, the authors argue that, to be successful in the long run, community colleges must become more student-centric. They must re-imagine their three historic missions of university transfer, occupational, and developmental education through the lens of the actual students that enroll and attend classes.

Student-centered, transformative change can be achieved by:

  • Supporting innovative, credit-based training programs
  • Strengthening sections of the Student Aid and Fiscal Accountability Act along the lines of the Post-9/11 GI bill by improving student aid to include stipends for full- and part-time community college attendance and allowances for book and supplies
  • Increasing the use of data to support secondary and postsecondary systems as they strive to reduce the need for remediation of students entering colleges
  • Improving transfer rates to four-year colleges by augmenting articulation and finance policies with data collection, common course numbering, and joint baccalaureate programming
  • Developing common standards for assessing student learning and institutional effectiveness

Strong Students, Strong Workers

Models for Student Success through Workforce Development and Community College Partnerships

By Harry Holzer and Demetra Nightingale

Read the full report (pdf)

Download the executive summary (pdf)

The authors of this report provide a comprehensive survey of partnerships between community colleges and federal programs, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and labor organizations that are emerging help these nontraditional learners successfully attend college and achieve postsecondary credential. The reforms described in the paper include:

  • Bridge programs and career pathways that specify steps through which individuals progress for upward career mobility, from remedial education to certificates and academic degrees
  • Alternative training and education, such as modular courses and stackable credentials that allow open entry and exit to and from programs and policies that allow time and course flexibility for adult students
  • Integrated education, occupational, and vocational training rather than separate and disconnected strategies
  • Sectoral training to prepare workers and future workers for high-demand occupations in growth industries
  • Incorporation of supports and assistance specifically designed to guide low-income students

Training Tomorrow’s Workforce:

Community College and Apprenticeship as Collaborative Routes to Rewarding Careers

By Robert Lerman

Read the full report (pdf)

Download the executive summary (pdf)

For community colleges, apprenticeships assure relevance for their students and allow students to document their abilities to perform in the workplace. In addition, they allow overcrowded and strained community colleges to offload some of their education and training to effective work-based learning under skilled supervisors. For apprenticeships, community colleges provide college credit and a college framework. The author explores the challenges impeding community college and apprenticeship partnerships and successful models to build a scalable system. Policy recommendations include:

  • Providing more resources for these purposes to the Office of Apprenticeship at the federal level and some state apprenticeship offices would generate large numbers of added slots which, in turn, would lead to social benefits (added earnings and tax revenue) that far outweigh the added costs.
  • Encourage states to subsidize some portion of the tuition of apprentices taking community college courses. This step would encourage more employers to use community colleges for their related instruction and could ultimate lead more apprentices to obtain A.A. degrees.
  • Follow the earnings pathways of community college students and use the results as performance indicators. House bill H.R. 3221 moves in this direction. Such a step could encourage community colleges to work more close with apprenticeship programs, since they have an excellent track record of achieving earnings gains.
  • States should use their discretionary funds within the Workforce Investment Act, or WIA, to coordinate joint initiatives between apprenticeships and community college, potentially linked with WIA and even high school programs.
  • States could provide incentives for contractors on state-funded programs to offer apprenticeship programs, including programs linked to community colleges. Some states, notably Washington, already use mandates and incentives for this purpose.
  • Set aside funding from the re-entry programs and other labor-related and justice-related programs to experiment with apprenticeship expansions for ex-offenders.