Stronger Partnerships Between Community Colleges and Local Employers Help Communities Thrive

In Community Colleges’ Crucial Role in Powering Local Economies, an op-ed published November 13, 2018 in Governing magazine, authors Rob Sentz, chief innovation officer at Emsi, and Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, note the challenge communities face in attracting and keeping an educated workforce at a time when public investment in higher education is lagging.

However, they cite new data from an Emsi analysis of more than 100 million résumés and social profiles showing the value to local and regional economies of supporting an expanded role for community colleges. The analysis found that  61 percent of community-college graduates stay within 50 miles of their alma mater, suggesting that community colleges are uniquely equipped not only to develop but also to retain talent that is often in demand by local employers.

Some states as well as individual colleges already are taking bold steps to address talent shortages, according to the authors. Last year in Texas, the legislature moved to allow community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees in high-demand fields such as applied sciences, early childhood education and health care. In Florida, Miami Dade College responded to labor-market shortages by partnering with the Washington, D.C.-based Business-Higher Education Forum to develop such "stackable" credentials -- ultimately leading to a bachelor's degree -- in data science and analytics.

The authors say better alignment between community colleges and local economies creates four kinds of wins. They note, “Colleges win when they build locally focused, relevant programs. Employers win when they have a reliable pipeline of well-prepared talent. Students win when they build the knowledge and skills that they can put to work quickly without having to move to find a job. And regions win when the students they invest in go on to live and work within the community rather than taking their talents elsewhere.”

These observations lead to two key recommendations:

  • Focus on return on investment: States and local communities would be wise to not just increase but to get creative with their investments in community colleges. The most successful communities are those where college programs and local industry are tightly connected.
  • Craft innovative approaches to value creation and sustainability: For example, Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin realized that it was no longer reaching the workers and unemployed residents most in need of training, in part because they couldn't get to its downtown campus. Harnessing economic and demographic data, college leaders built a case for a new campus to reach this untapped talent pool, ultimately raising more than $20 million from local businesses and foundations to fund construction.

Read the full article here.

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