With the nation’s unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent, community colleges are focused on responding to the workforce needs of our country. Workforce training is essential to the completion agenda.
It’s a rule of thumb in community colleges that
when the economy goes down, our enrollments go up. This has certainly
been the case the past few years. Though the pace of enrollment growth
has slowed in recent months, many institutions are less than a semester
removed from record increases. In most cases, those students are still on
our campuses, getting the education they need to improve their careers.
One of our greatest strengths as community colleges is our ability to
adjust to changing economic needs.
We’re expected to move quickly and with the help of instructional
modes that do not compromise academic rigor. Cooperative education
and paid and unpaid internships with local business and industry partners are
an effective way to provide our students with critical hands-on experience. Such
efforts often mark the capstone to a successful academic program and, more often
than not, lead to gainful employment in strong and potentially fruitful job markets.
But, as competition for the best jobs heats up, and more students pass through
our doors, we also need to expand our capacity for workforce training and, by
extension, college completion.
How to Grow?
As baby boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials enroll in search of workforce
training, community college leaders must be more assertive in reaching these
groups and letting them know what jobs are available. The ways we choose to communicate with students might differ depending on what generation they’re from.
Where Generation Xers, for instance,
are known as independent and entrepre-
neurial, Millennials are known for an
affinity for group work and
collaboration. As we build
capacity, we must take into
account generational differ-
ences and talk to students in
ways they understand.
A New Business
Training the nation’s work-
force has been the mission
of community colleges since
our inception. The 21st century requires
us to re-examine and potentially re-
engineer the traditional business model.
The “new economy” stresses global
competitiveness, improved productivity,
redefined corporate organizational struc-
tures, and new business processes.
Business and industry must take advantage of community college training
programs. It is far more economical for
training to be provided by community
colleges. We are set up to provide job
training and have been doing it successfully for decades. It is up to us to prove
to local business and industry partners
that an investment in community college job training is money well spent.
Creating outcome measures that focus
on workforce training completers is
imperative. Community colleges have
struggled with this idea for years. It’s
time to revamp existing accountability measures, and to count the many
successful completers who have come
through the ranks of our workforce
training programs. Our students have
come to us with a very specific need: job
training. It’s time we did our part.
Myrtle e.B. Dorsey is AACC board chair
and chancellor of St. Louis Community
College in St. Louis, Mo.