Federal Opportunities and Priorities for Community Colleges

Aligning Workforce and Economic Development
Blog Post
Teacher in a classroom with students
Dec. 4, 2023

On November 2nd 2023, New America hosted the kick-off event for our Lumina Foundation-sponsored Community College Workforce Transformation and Implementation Cohort. The event brought together leaders of workforce development programs at the 15 community colleges that make up our cohort. Each is committed to implementing institutional-level policy or practice changes to become better workforce training providers.

For the keynote session, the community college leaders got to hear from agencies across the federal government moderated by New America’s Shalin Jyotishi. The panel focused on federal funding opportunities that can support community colleges in better alignment of their workforce portfolios with regional economic development in their communities. The panel included:

Amy Loyd, Assistant Secretary, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) in the U.S. Department of Education.

“I have the honor of serving our great nation as the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education, known as OCTAE. In my work, everything sits at the intersection of education, workforce development, and economic development. I would argue that community colleges in so many ways are the heart of accomplishing all that my office seeks to do, all the change that we seek to engender in the world. All the education resources and support that we want our workers and learners to have lead to you.”

Erwin Gianchandani, Assistant Director of the Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, National Science Foundation (NSF).

“For the last three years or so, I've been really focused on the eighth Directorate that NSF has now created, a new unit called the Directorate for Technology Innovation and Partnerships or TIP. It is authorized in the CHIPS and Science Act legislation that Congress passed and the president signed into law last year. Our goal is to accelerate progress in technology, to advance societal national geo-strategic challenges, climate, clean energy, critical infrastructure, and issues of equity or inequity, but to do so in a meaningful way.”

Patrick Bourke, Program Lead, American Rescue Plan Good Jobs Challenge, U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).

“I work at the Economic Development Administration, which sits under the Department of Commerce. I’m not surprised if you all haven't worked with us before, but we're starting to gain a little bit more traction in this space and part of that is due to the American rescue plan. Commerce has also been a large benefactor of the CHIPS and Science Act.”

The text has been edited and condensed. Click on the video to access the full panel discussion.

The federal government’s vision for aligning workforce and economic development with opportunities for the engagement of community colleges

There was consensus across the three agencies that improving workforce development programs, especially at community colleges, is a priority because workforce development drives economic development. Each panelist described their agency’s vision for workforce and economic development with an emphasis on opportunities to partner with community colleges.

Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE)

Unlocking Career Success, a joint initiative across the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, and Commerce reimagines the connection between high school, college, and career. Career and Technical Education (CTE) is the foundation of the initiative, and according to OCTAE’s Amy Loyd, “community colleges have to be partners in every aspect of it. We're recognizing we need to make sure every single student in our country, while in high school earns college credit, ideally through dual enrollment, in partnership with community colleges.” The initiative’s first area of focus is strengthening dual enrollment across the country.

Meaningful real-world work-based learning is also a priority for the Unlocking Career Success program. High schools need to partner with community colleges and with businesses and industry to create a continuum of work-based learning experiences so that students can get out of the vicious cycle of needing to have work experience to get a job, but needing a job to get work experience.

Additionally, it focuses on industry-recognized credentials that provide opportunities for employment for high school graduates. According to the program’s website, this is particularly important for young people who choose not to pursue further learning immediately after high school or those who choose to work and learn simultaneously.

The final focus area is meaningful postsecondary and career advising navigation support so that students and their families can make informed choices about their future. Good jobs will continue to require post-secondary education beyond high school. “What we're trying to do is elevate the role of the sub-baccalaureate space, the powerful and rewarding world of workforce credentials, of our community and technical colleges, of pre-apprenticeship and independent registered apprenticeship programs, to help our students and families see that as a first-class option to a really rewarding and joyful future” said Dr. Loyd.

Dr. Loyd also advised community colleges seeking to maximize Perkins funds for workforce development programs to build more permeable systems across non-credit and credit programs. Community colleges can use Perkins funds for short-term workforce programs that would not be eligible for Title IV funding. On October 26th, the Department of Education released some guidance for states to consider for Perkins 4-year state plans which are due in 2024. Amy remarked, “as we're thinking about blurring the lines between high school and community college, I would argue that we need to increase our community college allocation because you are increasingly serving our high school students.” The Assistant Secretary encouraged community college leaders to engage in their Perkins state planning process.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

The CHIPS and Science Act created the Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) at the NSF–the first new directorate in over thirty years and the only one named in the legislation. The Directorate is responsible for implementing the vision of the “science” part of the CHIPS and Science Act.

NSF TIP focuses on three key pillars that drive the portfolio of programs and investments. The first pillar is sparking and supporting a set of diverse regional innovation ecosystems across the country. “When we talk about diversity, right, it means diverse in every sense of the word, including the types of institutions that are engaging and participating in these ecosystems,” said Dr. Gianchandani.

The second pillar is around technology development and technology translation which includes two key programs. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program provides funding for startups and small businesses and the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Institutes program. These programs aim to support diverse talent, including students enrolled at community colleges and technical schools across the country.

Finally, the third pillar is focused on talent creation and workforce development. NSF not only supports research and university labs all across the country, but also supports talent creation at all levels; at the K-12 level, at the community college level, at the four-year university level, and at the graduate level. Ten technology focus areas are shaping TIP’s funding strategy.

In one of his first public interviews as TIP’s leader, Dr. Gianchandani emphasized the need to expand the support of community colleges in emerging technology workforce development and in regional innovation economies. NSF launched the NSF ExLENT program which funds community colleges and other organizations for experiential and work-based learning in emerging technology fields. It also launched the NSF EPIIC program which funds capacity building for community colleges, HBCUs, and other non-elite research universities to support workforce needs in the innovation economy.

Finally, the Regional Innovation Engines program, its signature $160 million, 10-year CHIPS-funded program and the largest non-facility grant program in NSF history, spans all three of those pillars, by pulling together broad and diverse coalitions that are inclusive of community colleges to promote a region’s competitive advantage. The Engines program will engage community colleges heavily in regional innovation ecosystems in ways that have never been done before. 36 community colleges, districts, or systems are named partners in NSF Engine Type 1 awards ($1M development awards to support nascent innovation ecosystems) and 30 community colleges are named partners for Engines Type 2 award finalists ($160M awards supporting 10-year long term projects).

Economic Development Administration (EDA)

At the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA), there are various opportunities available for community colleges. The Good Jobs Challenge was included in the president's budget. It is still unclear whether there will be funding for a second iteration of the program which aims to invest in innovative approaches to workforce development.

Other opportunities include the Tech Hubs program and the Recompete Pilot Program. Tech Hubs are an opportunity to increase global competitiveness in some of America's cities across the country in specific high-growth industries. The Recompete Pilot Program is designed to identify high-need locations where the prime age (25-54) employment gap trails the national average and make significant investments to close that gap. Additionally, the EDA’s Talent Challenge Grants provide workforce funding for community colleges supporting training needs for their region’s technology and innovation economy.

Although the application for some these programs is closed, Patrick advised that “there is still time to get involved with these various partnerships. Even if you weren't a part of the first phase of the application process. I think it's good to look up the things that have been designated in your region or your area or who submitted a recompete application for your area and see if there's a way also to get involved in these large projects.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is also investing in workforce training focused on climate resilience. Through the climate-ready workforce grant, awardees will receive between $500,000-$10 million each to establish programs aimed at workforce development for climate-related jobs.

Supporting colleges and our cohort in the alignment of college practices and federal opportunities to promote economic development is a key focus of the Center on Education and Labor’s Initiative on the Future of Work and the Innovation Economy (FOWIE), particularly as more colleges seek to optimize their response to federal infrastructure investments from the CHIPS and Science Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, and the American Rescue Plan. Subscribe to the FOWIE’s newsletter newsletter here.