The Evolving Role of Community Colleges in Workforce Development

The Evolving Role of Community Colleges in Workforce Development

Carrie Weikel-Delaplane, Lucy Arellano
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4123-4.ch005
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Community colleges play a crucial role in developing a skilled workforce through preparation. The questions that this chapter addresses are: How are community colleges ensuring that they are addressing current workforce and industry needs? What evidence is there in the published scholarship? What is the process of continual program review to update career technical education and workforce education? To address the questions, a systematic literature review of the scholarship on workforce training at community colleges was conducted. The chapter illustrates the findings emerging from the literature review and particularly highlights 1) the changing focus of the community college, 2) the refinement of workforce education through program review, and 3) including student outcomes as part of program review. These findings incorporate an overview of the role community colleges play in workforce development and education while a focus on program review procedures speaks to the innovation, evolution, and future of workforce education.
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The Changing Focus Of The Community College

Community colleges are ideally situated to provide both practical career and technical preparation as well as lower division courses for college transfer (Carnevale, 2012). While programs related to workforce education have existed since the inauguration of the community college, they have not always been as central to the community college mission (Brint & Karabel, 1989). In the 1980s, as local, state, and federal governments began funding workforce education programs, there was a movement towards community colleges developing programs to provide needed job skills in their educational service districts (Kozachyn, 2013). More recently, as employers in the United States strategize ways to maintain their competitive advantage in the face of increasingly fierce global competition, community colleges have emerged as a major pipeline to meet national and local workforce development needs (Rothwell, Gerity, & Gaertner, 2000).

Liebowitz, Haynes, and Milley (2001) lauded community colleges for being entrepreneurial, rooted in regional economies, and further asserted that the community colleges have garnered increased interest as a key to opportunity for many underserved Americans. A year prior, in 2000, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) produced a summary of community college missions titled The Knowledge Net. The AACC proclaimed that, “community colleges should view the preparation and development of the nation’s workforce as a primary part of their mission and communicate to policymakers the uniqueness of this community college role” (American Association of Community Colleges & Association of Community College Trustees Trustees, 2000, p.8).

More recently, community colleges have faced increasing scrutiny regarding their ability to continuously improve their programs, completion rates, success rates, overall student outcomes, and meet the needs of industry in a timely manner (Bailey et al., 2015). Since 2004, the “Completion Agenda” has emerged as a movement which has resulted in vocal calls for sweeping reform of the community college sector. In 2009, the national focus on completion was made increasingly visible when President Obama implored community colleges to increase the number of graduates and program completers by 50% (or approximately 5 million students nationally) over a 10-year period (Boggs, 2012).

As a result of the sweeping calls for reform, community colleges have undertaken countless activities aimed at a common goal: to significantly increase the number of adults in the United States who have earned a postsecondary credential (Russell, 2011). While the Completion Agenda has garnered increased support for and emphasis on students completing two-year degrees or certificates, there also exists an urgent need for the programs offered by community colleges to align to the needs of evolving industries and the ongoing and growing demand for qualified workers (Hu & Bowman, 2016). Throughout the history of the community college, the central focus has shifted from being a leader in access to higher education, to maintaining access and increasing student success and completion, and more recently to a current focus on access combined with equitable student success, completion, and student outcomes in the job market (Aspen Institute, College Excellence Program, 2017).

In 2015, Bailey, Jaggars, and Jenkins released a book called Redesigning America’s Community Colleges where they posed a critical question that threads through the ongoing national discourse regarding higher education: “Are community colleges proving to their communities that there is a return on their investment for a community college education?” Their book (Bailey et al., 2015), has become a respected voice of dissent and states strongly that the Completion Agenda has not been effective in producing urgent and imperative changes in higher education. Conversely, the authors suggest that community colleges require a complete redesign to effectively serve all their constituents and meet their diverse institutional missions. The concepts in their book underscore an impetus for change in how community colleges are re-envisioning their educational delivery models to better serve all students. Ensuring that community college students are trained to move into a living-wage job is a critical goal that the community college must achieve. Building on the changing focus of the community college is the continual dedication to program delivery improvement and a major component of that is program review.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Workforce Education: Educational programs aligned with requirements of industry to lead to a job path. Often workforce education is non-credit but stackable into community college for-credit academic programs.

Accountability: The act of holding academic programs accountable for meeting objectives and outcomes.

Workforce Education Outcomes: Outcomes that could include the employment outcomes and associated salaries of graduates of workforce education programs. Outcomes could also include but not be limited to employer satisfaction with graduate knowledge, skills, and abilities in the workplace.

Program Review: The process of reviewing an educational program to determine if it is meeting the stated objectives and outcomes.

Workforce Development Program Review: Program review process focused on assessing workforce development programs to determine if they are meeting the stated objectives and outcomes.

Program Discontinuance: The process of discontinuing the offering of a specific academic program at an educational institution.

Community College: A system of colleges most typically found in the United States. Community Colleges typically offer a variety of different programs and credentials primarily focused on associates degrees, transfer degrees to four-year institutions and workforce programs leading to certificates and industry related credentials to move people into jobs.

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