July 18, 2023
Artificial intelligence is poised to disrupt work as we know it. The OECD is predicting up to a third of jobs will be automated over the coming years. At the same time, the American labor market is slowing, particularly for Black Americans, with rising interest rates meant to rein in inflation. American workers face an uncertain future. To address these challenges, we need a system that supports people retraining for the jobs that are available and can sustain a family. That’s where community college workforce programs come in.
Over the last three years, New America conducted research on these programs to see what makes them high quality, how colleges can scale those quality programs, and what policy can do to support it. We summarized our findings for colleges in a series of briefs. In a prior post, we announced the Advisory Committee and focus areas for the Community College Workforce Transformation & Implementation Cohort, a group of colleges who will implement policy innovations informed by our research. Today, we are excited to announce the fifteen colleges joining the cohort:
- Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College
- BridgeValley Community and Technical College
- Central New Mexico Community College
- Community College of Aurora
- Cuyahoga Community College
- Greenfield Community College
- Linn-Benton Community College
- Lorain County Community College
- Louisiana Delta Community College
- Marion Technical College
- National Park College
- Ocean County College
- Rockland Community College (SUNY)
- Santa Ana College
- Tompkins Cortland Community College (SUNY)
These colleges represent 12 states and a mix of rural, suburban, and urban communities. They collectively educate over 181,000 students with the smallest college serving around 2,000 students and the largest over 34,000. Four of the colleges are Hispanic-serving institutions.
The innovations that these colleges want to implement provide a window into how community colleges across the country are looking to strengthen workforce programs. It also shows how colleges are experimenting with new policies to ensure workforce students access and succeed in programs leading to strong employment outcomes.
Aligning Workforce Development with Equitable Economic & Community Development
The cohort’s first focus area is about building the capacity of colleges to meet the current economic demand in their communities while also contributing to the economic development and emerging jobs in their regions. At many colleges, workforce programs (whether credit-bearing or non-credit) are distributed across the college, and not all colleges have a senior leader with oversight over all those programs who can develop a strategic vision for economic development and align workforce programs with the needs of the community.
Some colleges need to build out staffing models and structures, including workforce advisory boards, for broader engagement with community partners. Many colleges cited a need to grow partnerships with employers, local and federal government agencies, community-based organizations, and other organizations who can provide work-based learning opportunities and job placements for students and/or funding to develop and expand in-demand programs.
Many colleges are focused on how their programs can better serve the economic needs of their students and communities. Some colleges want to create new-short term credentials, and others want to expand apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships. Others want to create more seamlessness across programs, especially allowing students to “stack” programs so that students who complete noncredit programs can continue in for-credit programs without starting from square one.
Modernizing College-Wide Data Infrastructure to Achieve Equitable Workforce Priorities
The second focus area is data—what data colleges need to understand the labor market and program outcomes, how colleges can collect this data, and how they can use it to launch programs and evaluate existing ones.
Some colleges still need to update their data systems and employ more sophisticated tools to better store and analyze their data. Most colleges need to gather more labor market information, like what training is needed by employers, and they have questions about what data sources are accurate and up-to-date. They also need to better track program completion rates and information about graduates’ job placements and salaries.
Several colleges want to improve how they use and share this data internally and develop cultures of data use in which workforce faculty and staff use data to develop and assess programs and advise students. To do so, some colleges want to build better internal dashboards and train staff on accessing and understanding them. Many colleges also want to formalize the use of outcomes data in program evaluations.
Developing College-Level Financing Strategies to Fund the Implementation of Workforce Priorities & Address Equity
The last focus area is financing—how to pay for the startup and operation of high quality workforce programs.
The colleges in our cohort are very interested in finding new funding streams, including state and federal funds, to diversify the financing of their workforce programs. Many colleges across the country knit together many funding sources from grant funding, to state operational funding, to student fees to make these programs work, and they are very interested in finding new sources of revenue to improve their capacity and support services for students.
The cohort colleges would also like additional help to explain the value and return on investment of these programs to various external audiences so they invest in the workforce programs. Communicating how these programs have a substantial impact on the lives of graduates and the communities where they live is a vital part of creating sustainable funding models. Our colleges are particularly interested in communicating to state and federal policy makers and foundations or individuals who might donate to the college. We will also cover how to communicate the ROI to employers to leverage both in-kind and financial donations to the programs they benefit from.
The last area of interest is around creating finance and planning models that will sustain programs. Understanding the full cost of offering programs, how to budget for them and predict demand, and how to set the price for the various stakeholders will help to ensure these programs are on a sustainable footing into the future.
Do you know of or work at a college that is doing amazing work in these areas that would inform the colleges in our cohort? Have you helped colleges strengthen their workforce programs? Please let us know.
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