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May 14, 2013 2:05 PM Community Colleges Focus on Jobs

By Daniel Luzer

Back in 2010, Jamie Merisotis and Stan Jones wrote for this publication about the potential benefits of using community colleges, and federal money, to help get the unemployed back to work. The administration appeared to have listened and the next year the Department of Labor provided money to community colleges for skills development.

It seems to have worked pretty well. According to a piece at Inside Higher Ed:

The colleges have also used the money to sharpen their focus on career services. Rather than just trying to help students find jobs as they finish degree programs, each one has hired a full-time “career and college navigator” to lend a hand to students throughout their time on campus.

Because the grants are implemented differently in different states it’s difficult to say exactly how the program has worked for the entire country. But part of what the grants were designed to do was facilitate reforms to get community colleges to focus on workforce development. That’s exactly what they’re doing.

The project has led to far more than a smattering of new academic offerings. Over all, the colleges plan to create more than 85 new degree, certificate and noncredit programs in the six industry fields. About 2,000 students are currently enrolled in those programs.
Many of the new credentials are designed to be stackable. Freeman said the manufacturing and health care tracks in particular include a series of certificates and degrees for students to build upon as they progress in their jobs.

The programs certainly haven’t been implemented exactly as Merisotis and Jones recommended. They focused in particular on the scheduling of classes, suggesting that offering classes in all day blocks would improve completion and get students quickly into available jobs. The success of the scheduling plan is sort of difficult to determine now.

The continuing sluggishness of the economy also means that employment hasn’t exactly improved dramatically. But as a program itself it looks like the work grants may help community colleges a great deal. Many students are in these institutions specifically to improve their skills to obtain better jobs. The fact that community colleges now see this as a priority means the program, so far, is working as intended.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer