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  • American Association of Community Colleges Report Calls for Dramatic Change

On April 21, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) released a report titled “Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future.” It was created by AACC’s 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges, comprised of 38 community college professionals.  The report was released in conjunction with AACC’s 92nd annual convention held in Orlando, attended by more than 1,600 community college professionals from across the country. “Reclaiming the American Dream” calls for dramatic changes to America’s community colleges to ensure U.S. competitiveness.

An Historic Undertaking

AACC positioned this report on a high plateau equal in importance to two historic community college reports: the 1947 report of the Truman Commission, which advocated higher education for everyone,  and the 1988 report on the Commission on the Future of the Community College, titled “Building Communities: A Vision for a New Century.” 

The Commission’s POV Regarding WFD and Corporate Training

It is unflinchingly stated in the report that “the connection between education and training and employment demands reveals serious shortcomings.” One of three 21st-Century Commission Co-Chairs, Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin, said that “even during this difficult economy there are hundreds of thousands of jobs that are waiting for Americans to fill. There is a gap between what we are providing at community colleges and what employers and the workforce need from us.”

To put it succinctly, community college programs, in general, are not aligned with labor market needs. Therefore, community college students are not being prepared for today’s high-demand job skills.

Jennifer Lara, an Anne Arundel Community College professor and member of the 21st-Century Commission, added that “we are attempting to prepare a workforce for now and also for the future, and, in many cases, it is for jobs that we don’t yet know exist.”  She noted that community colleges always have been responsive to current and future skills gaps, adding that the report includes a call out for community colleges to provide more coherent career pathways that lead to “stackable” credentials.

As noted in the report, stackable credentials are “multilevel, industry-recognized credentials reflecting attainment of the knowledge and skills required at different stages of a career.” A good example of a stackable credential is the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), which is being integrated into community college manufacturing-oriented programs [see Community College Spotlight article “Instead of College”].

Other recommendations related to skills gaps that were featured in the report include developing technology that will enable community colleges to “access available labor market data to identify and monitor skills gaps in their regions,” as well as engage in collaborative agendas with local, regional and national employers and government agencies.  These collaborations would be geared toward the creation of programs that target skills gaps; the promotion of associate degrees; the establishment of alternative models for completing skills-based credentials, including classroom instruction, online learning, credit for prior learning, and on-the-job learning; and the development of a national credentialing system [although this  national system was not fully explained].

“We have to leverage our partners in the private and public sectors and create and mobilize powerful collaborations so that students can learn in different environments, and community colleges can be a broker in creating these opportunities and innovations,” said 21st-Century Commission Co-Chair Augustine Gallego, chancellor emeritus, San Diego Community College District.

Job Market Needs

In a section of the report titled “Job Market Needs,” the 21st-Century Commission brought forth some eye-opening information culled from one of the 11 working briefs it commissioned to inform the development of their vision for the future. First, excluding health professions, community colleges are not producing enough graduates to meet job demands in a variety of occupations. It’s noted, for instance, that associate degree production to fulfill 2009-2010 hires met only 31% of demand in seven occupational categories overall: construction, transportation, business, science, mechanics, precision production, and legal. The lowest was in construction trades with only 13% of demand capable of being met by community college graduates, and the highest was in legal professions with 75% of demand being met.

In addition, an analysis of occupational data in more than 18,000 jobs revealed that essential skills in three areas —applied mathematics, locating information, and reading for information [which are covered in the aforementioned NCRC]—are required for 98% of occupations paying a decent wage. “Indexing the three skills against the 18,000 jobs, analysts found that community college graduates were, on average, adequately skilled for just 57% of these desirable occupations.” 

Entrepreneurial Community College Leaders

But all is not so bleak.  The 21st-Century Commission also highlighted several “game-changers in creating new jobs and industries,” including the relatively new jobs-creation-oriented College to Careers program at the seven City Colleges of Chicago, the local-industry-saving  UPS Metropolitan College partnership with Jefferson Community and  Technical College in Kentucky, and  Walla Walla Community College’s  highly positive impact on the wine industry in the state of Washington.  Of course, there are many other examples of highly successful entrepreneurial community college initiatives that were not mentioned in the report. It’s no secret that community colleges have historically been a vital influence on our nation’s workforce. For the community college professionals attending the recent AACC convention, however,  the key message was that there is a colossal need for everyone to work harder and smarter under the always-present, limited and diminishing local, state and federal funds allocated to the nation’s community colleges.

Tackling the Lack of Funds

On the lack-of-funds issue, 21st-Century Commission Co-Chair Jerry Sue Thornton, president of Cuyahoga Community College,  encouraged community college leaders to be aggressive and take the lead with state, local, and federal legislatures in defining funding for performance models. On issues related to federal financial aid, she suggested that community colleges “provide guidance to the federal government rather than sitting back and being reactive.”

Building New Structures

Using what could be considered an appropriate construction metaphor,  Phillip Uri Treisman, 21st-Century Commission member and director of the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, said “our message is that it is time to fundamentally reengineer the structures for preparing the unprepared for rigorous college-level work, for completion of credentials that have labor-market value, and most important for upward social and economic mobility . . .  There has to be a very high bar for the kind of change we are talking about with this Commission report.  It’s time to put on hard hats, do the demolition and build new structures.” 

Written for TrainingIndustry.com

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