Community Colleges and Workforce Development: Then and Now

Community Colleges and Workforce Development: Then and Now

Roch Turner
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4123-4.ch004
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Community colleges have played a significant role in the strength of America's workforce for over a century. Throughout the past one hundred years, the two-year college system has evolved into a significant contributor for economic strength and growth. The purpose of this chapter is to provide a historical analysis of the modern community college. In doing so, the reader will have a clear understanding of why and how a contemporary community college came into existence, as well as causal factors to its success. Following the historical analysis, this chapter will discuss the creation of a dental hygiene program at a rural two-year college. The intent is to give this chapter's reader insight to the process by which a community college creates workforce-based programming.
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As the nation’s labor needs evolve and increasingly transcend state and national boundaries, community colleges are poised to serve as a hub for workforce development. Consequently, scholarship that informs decision-making surrounding community colleges is becoming a need of critical importance. In order to understand the impact of community colleges in workforce development and education, one must first understand the historical context of community colleges in the United States. From a historical standpoint, community colleges have traditionally played very important roles in the education process. In large part the community college came about as the result of local initiatives to alleviate shortages in workforce needs. As a result, the national workforce shortage was addressed as well. Over time the need for skilled workers has increased dramatically. The result has been the creation of a system that necessarily responds to the needs of industry and students alike.

The utilization of community colleges has, in recent years, become part of a larger movement to alleviate workforce shortages. With the introduction of state and federal programs to specifically train workers, community colleges are now integral partners meeting industry needs. This has been made evident by the introduction of TAACCCT (Trade Adjustment, Assistance Community College and Career Training) grant established to retrain displaced workers. The result of TAACCCT grants, and others like it, has been a more connected community college system in states throughout the nation. However, the nature of community colleges vary based on factors such as urban vs. rural, size, and area demographics to name just a few. Therefore, the impact made by community colleges will vary as well. As a collective, community colleges are in a prime position to make meaningful and lasting contributions to the workforce, transforming the lives of their students and the success of industry partners.

The impact of community colleges in America has been further enhanced through the use of technological advances, allowing rural students a level of access that has not been realized in the past. The impact was twofold; bettering learning among students and creating greater access to workforce education. Through technology and innovative thinking, community colleges have expanded college access to high school students. Ultimately this has strengthened pathways to workforce education and occupations for rural and remote students on a scale never before seen in the United States. The introduction of early college coursework and concurrent enrollment has allowed high school students interested in entering the workforce an opportunity to gain relevant credentials and training necessary to make themselves marketable to industry leaders. This phenomenon was unlikely to ever have occurred at four-year institutions for a variety of reasons. In many ways, this new development might be the modern era’s most meaningful contribution to the history of community colleges in America.

This chapter provides a historical analysis of community colleges and their impact on the nation’s workforce. Understanding the historical framework of the community college is critical if one is to appreciate its impact on our modern workforce. Following the historical analysis, this chapter offers a case study for workforce program development from the institution where the author once worked.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Workforce Program: An academic program consisting of two years or less meant specifically to aid in workforce development.

Economic Development: The creation of jobs and business that result in the financial betterment of society at large.

Two-Year College: An institution of higher education focused on credit and non-credit bearing programs in duration of two years or less.

Industry Partner: A business or employment entity working closely with a community college for the creation of curriculum or source of employment for graduating students.

Workforce: Workers involved in the economic output of a county, state, or national economy in specific fields of employment.

Program Development: The creation of curricula that specifically addresses workforce needs at the community college level.

Curriculum: Specific elements of a course of study leading to a certificate or degree at a post-secondary institution.

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