Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Local and Regional Economic Contributions of Community Colleges: It Will Be Increasingly Important for Community Colleges to Let Their Constituencies Know Not Only about Their Contributions to the Education of the Citizenry, but Also about Their Contributions to the Economy

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Local and Regional Economic Contributions of Community Colleges: It Will Be Increasingly Important for Community Colleges to Let Their Constituencies Know Not Only about Their Contributions to the Education of the Citizenry, but Also about Their Contributions to the Economy

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

COMMUNITY COLLEGES HAVE MULTIPART MISSIONS that include providing the first two years of baccalaureate programs; career and technical education (CTE) credit and noncredit programs for individuals seeking to enter the labor force, upgrade their skills, or change careers; developmental education for students who lack college-level skills, primarily in reading, writing, and mathematics; workforce and contract training to meet the needs of employers; continuing education for professionals seeking continued licensure or certification in their fields; education for community residents interested in life-long learning; and cultural activities of all kinds. While these are generally accepted components of community colleges' missions, some colleges have additional purposes, including offering baccalaureate degrees in selected areas, providing pre-college programs and services to enhance the college-level readiness of incoming students, and giving outside groups the use of college facilities. Another increasingly important part of the community college mission is its contribution to the overall economic health of its service area, the focus of this article.

ECONOMIC CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE: THE ASSUMPTIONS

The recent recession brought community colleges to the forefront as vehicles to drive economic recovery through workforce education and the retraining of displaced workers. As George Boggs, former president of the American Association of Community Colleges, said, "Never in my life would I have expected community colleges to be called potential saviors of the economy" (McClure 2010, 1 1). But while the spotlight has recently been turned on community colleges, students of and advocates for these institutions have long suggested a number of ways in which they contribute to the economy. Because a primary role of community colleges-- italics added for emphasis--is to serve the needs of their communities or service regions, the focus of their economic contributions is typically local rather than statewide or national.

In this article the term "local" includes not just the official district a college serves, but also the surrounding region. As Phelps (2012) notes, community colleges are increasingly being called on to partner with other educational institutions, governmental agencies, and employers to craft regional approaches "to create new forms of economic, social, and human capital" (p. 2).

Attempting to impose a more precise definition on "local" or "regional" is outside the scope of this article. The following discussion assumes that economic contributions are primarily if not exclusively centered within a relatively constrained geographic area, perhaps a corner of a state or a single county or city or cluster of suburbs. It is also important to note here that "local" denotes emphasis, not exclusion; many community colleges are following national trends and forming partnerships with employers and other institutions across local and state boundaries. The recent U.S. Department of Labor grants for community colleges (e.g., the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training [TAACCCT] grant program) support a number of cross-state projects.

A number of factors discussed below underlie the premise that community colleges contribute to the local economy. The degree to which these actually exist needs to be established.

1. Community colleges are closely connected with and informed by area employers. As a result, professional and technical education curricula, noncredit workforce development programs, continuing education for professionals, and contract training are both current and responsive to business and industry needs for a trained, qualified workforce.

Within the same institution some programs may be tightly linked to the businesses and industries they serve, while others may operate with fewer ties. One way colleges stay connected is through program Advisory Committees, with members drawn from the business, professional, and not-for-profit communities in that field. …

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