Community Colleges and Their Important Role in Workforce Development

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Community College Students

Each day, millions of students enter the doors of America’s community colleges prepared to learn and make a difference not just in their own lives, but the lives of others. Of the current 12.1 million community college student population, including both credit and non-credit seeking, 36 percent are first-generation students, 17 percent are single parents, 12 percent are students with disabilities, 4 percent are Veterans, and 7 percent are students with prior bachelor degrees. Today, community colleges are offering more than just an Associate’s Degree to students – they are becoming a hub for developing and strengthening our economy’s ever-changing workforce.

In October 2016, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) hosted its 7th Annual Invitational Symposium on Student Success. During this symposium, researchers Anthony Carnevale and Nicole Smith from the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce presented a captivating study. The duo examined the challenges working students face and how these problems impacted their completion of a degree or certification, and there was one statistic that really stood out to me: Six million (43%) of all working learners are poor – defined as at, or earning wages and salaries below, 200 percent of the federal poverty line. As a current adjunct professor at two different community colleges, and former community college administrator, I’ve seen the diverse population in the classroom firsthand  – but this one quick fact forever changed my view of the men and women who are opening their textbooks and dreaming big.

Six million (43%) of all working learners are poor – defined as at, or earning wages and salaries below, 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

After reading through the full Carnevale and Smith report, I decided to ask my students what prompted them to attend a community college – it’s important to note that I teach both online courses and traditional face-to-face evening courses to a primarily older student population. I discovered that over half of my students were currently working full-time and wanted to build on their job skills for future promotions, career changes, or in some cases, to achieve higher pay in their current position. In addition, I discovered that most of my students are taking job training courses around Business and Professional studies, specifically. These results were initially surprising to me as I anticipated most of the students would be more focused on attaining a traditional 4-year degree – transferring after obtaining their Associate’s Degree at the college. This strengthened my perception on how important community colleges are in developing our local workforce economy, and how the nontraditional student has become the “new” traditional student at these institutions.

 To learn more about who these students are and how to engage them, check out our eBook on Engaging the "New" Traditional Student at Community Colleges.

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 I wanted to highlight one of our TargetX clients, Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC), in Pennsylvania, as they continue to play a significant role in enhancing the region’s workforce development. The College was assisted by a $10 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCCT) grant that allowed for non-credit offerings to fill a demand for skilled production and technical workers in programs like CDL, advanced manufacturing, public safety, and healthcare. In fact, the 2016 LCCC annual survey uncovered that 61 percent of participating graduates had already secured employment related to their degree program upon graduation. The College also reported that over 90 percent of graduates remained in the local/regional area upon graduation.

Community colleges, like LCCC and the hundreds of others across the country, are open access and are committed to advance desired student outcomes like job placement. Central Texas College (CTC), another TargetX client, understands that students, especially those serving in the military, strive to develop their job skills and advance professionally. According to the College’s recent publication, CTC works to serve military personnel not only in Texas but also in more than 25 locations in the United States and more than 100 locations worldwide. Central Texas College has more military members who enroll and graduate than any other college in the world, and is ranked 15th in the country among all degree-granting two-year colleges. CTC partners with local small businesses for on-the-job customized training as part of their Workforce Education and Training Programs. These programs are not only designed to help individuals learn new skill sets while strengthening their current talents, but also to help to support the surrounding community.

AACC 98th Annual Convention in Dallas, Texas

The American Association of Community Colleges recognizes this important mission and serves as a champion of all community colleges working with both small and large local businesses. In the coming days, nearly 2,500 community college presidents, senior administrators, international educators, and industry representatives will be joining together for the 98th Annual Convention in Dallas, Texas – make sure to stop by the TargetX booth in the exhibit hall to say hello!

Skimming through the myriad of presentations on the schedule, I noticed that Workforce & Economic Development will undoubtedly be a hot topic at this year’s conference. One upcoming exhibition that caught my eye was, “High Performance Cuyahoga – College-Led Community Transformation,” which focuses on Cuyahoga Community College. Tri-C is Ohio’s first, oldest, and largest public community college, and will be presenting on their work in transforming the educational attainment and workforce readiness of their community. Like Central Texas College, Cuyahoga has developed a comprehensive Workforce Training Program. According to Tri-C’s latest economic impact study, the College has delivered a $1.3 billion impact on the economy, supporting nearly 21,500 jobs. In fact, one out of 44 jobs in Cuyahoga County is supported by the activities of the College, its students, and alumni.

As #CommunityCollegeAwarenessMonth comes to an end and the AACC’s 98th Annual Convention begins, I am reminded of one fond memory from my time as an Administrator at Montgomery County Community College (MCCC). At the 2014 Commencement ceremony, I will never forget watching a grandfather and his grandson walking across the stage – both receiving their Associate’s Degrees. I get goosebumps just thinking about it! At the time, MCCC was a recipient of another great AACC-backed program, called the Plus 50 Initiative, which worked with baby boomers to help them prepare for new careers.

“One of the things that make community colleges so special is they do not pick and choose their students – they work with all students.” by Dr. Jill Biden

With that iconic image of a grandfather and his grandson walking across the commencement stage together, I will conclude with this quote from Dr. Jill Biden, the former Second Lady of the United States and current college professor at Northern Virginia Community College: “One of the things that make community colleges so special is they do not pick and choose their students – they work with all students.”

As a community college graduate, former Administrator, and now faculty member, I have come full circle in this space and have first-hand experience of the impact a community college can make on the lives of its students. Community colleges work to provide affordable education to all individuals no matter their age, economic standing, background, skill set, or even location. Community colleges positively impact their local economies through workforce education that effectively prepares tomorrow’s leaders. Community colleges make a tangible difference in our country.