Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Business and Community College Partnerships Help Grow Skilled Workforce

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Business and Community College Partnerships Help Grow Skilled Workforce

Article excerpt

Each year, over 1,100 community colleges provide students and workers with critical skills to succeed in a 21st century economy, but they are simply not churning out enough graduates to meet the needs of America's workforce for the next decade. There are many reasons for this deficit. Tuition and fees continue to soar, while two-thirds of courses are being taught by part-time faculty limiting the choices and numbers of courses offered.

The Obama administration has recognized the growing need for educated workers and is working in partnership with states and communities in promoting community colleges as the place to help achieve the administration's stated goals of adding 5 million graduates from community colleges by 2020. They maintain that community colleges are well suited to promote the dual goal of academic and on-the-job preparedness for the next generation of American workers.

However, driving up enrollment is no guarantee that community colleges will produce those 5 million more graduates. Budget cutbacks have had an adverse effect on the hiring practices at community colleges all across the country. Short staffing often means that students are left without access to faculty advisors and have to plan their course schedules and academic goals on their own. Is it any wonder that according to the Massachusetts Teachers Association just 17 percent of the full-time students who enrolled in one of the 15 community colleges in Massachusetts in 2003 were able to complete the requirement for a degree or certificate by 2010?

One of the ways community colleges are trying to play "catch-up" is to reach out to the community and make a connection demonstrating to prospective students that there is a tangible and practical reality to the pursuit of higher education. These schools are partnering with businesses to develop programs and classes, ranging from degree-granting curricula to certified courses for retraining, which will inspire and motivate students who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

Still, motivation can only take these students so far. Unless students have the skill sets to acquire the training necessary for the new jobs of the 21st century, the skilled workforce population will never increase in sufficient numbers to meet demand or the president's goal of 5 million community college graduates by the year 2020. In that regard, Washington is doing its part to fund training programs.

The Obama administration first launched the American Graduation Initiative as a program to support a new research center with a mission to develop and implement new measures of community colleges' success so prospective students and businesses could get a clear sense of how effective schools are in helping students - including the most disadvantaged - learn, graduate, and secure good jobs. The Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program takes the American Graduation Initiative a step further by providing investment in community college and industry partnerships to make sure more Americans can acquire the skills they need to enter and succeed in the workforce. The Obama administration committed $500 million to develop programs that provide pathways for individuals to secure quality jobs in high-wage, high-skilled fields including advanced manufacturing, transportation, health care, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) - and another $500 million in grant awards. …

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