Are US community colleges moving in a new direction?

By Maureen Aylward

President Obama is targeting $8 billion for community colleges to increase partnerships with businesses to provide technical and vocational training for students to meet workforce demands. We turned to our Zintro experts to help us understand how colleges can meet the needs of businesses and if they are in danger of becoming too reliant on these types of partnerships with business.

Alvin Hollander, a campus president, says that community colleges can meet the needs of local businesses by taking a lesson from the for-profit, private post-secondary community. “Driven by the demands of national and regional accrediting bodies, for-profit schools must conduct a minimum number of advisory board meetings each year with local companies. The number varies between the agencies. The goal is to share information,” says Hollander. “The schools describe the curriculum (course content, books, and labs) and the businesses describe the qualifications they look for in new graduates. As a result of these documented meetings, schools can make changes in the curriculum content to meet any new requirements that seem to be prevalent. Board members usually come from those that hire graduates or the actual graduates themselves who are working in the field and applying what they learned in the classroom.”

Another way that Hollander thinks that community colleges can make partnerships with local businesses successful is to have business supply qualified individuals to adjunct teach in courses that are more technical in nature. “In too many instances, teachers go from classroom to classroom never having done the actual work in what they teach,” he says. “Companies can make site visits available to students so they can see what kind of work is ahead. Seeing how things are done in the real world is essential to learning.”

Another thing the for-profits do well, says Hollander, is reading the classified ads (newspaper and online) to see what jobs are offered and the qualifications demanded. “If prior experience seems to be necessary, then community colleges can add an externship to a program that gets students into the workforce right before graduation. Many of these externships lead to jobs upon completion,” he says.

CLSinNYC, an expert in leadership coaching, says that in some countries there is a clear distinction between vocational and academic education after secondary school. This allows vocational schools to serve both students and businesses in the preparation of people to work in trades. “Technical training is vital for businesses and allows students to explore callings within these professions. In the United States, community colleges have served a dual role, providing technical or vocational education and serving as a bridge academic program.,” he says.

CLSinNYC thinks that with President Obama targeting funding to increase partnerships with business, there will be a shift in the balance of offerings in community colleges. “There is a potential danger of community colleges becoming too reliant on these partnerships, but this depends on how community colleges respond,” he says. “It will mean that community colleges shift more towards vocational and technical education. Whether this makes them reliant on business partnerships depends on how they chose to structure the relationships. In the best of worlds, community colleges will grow from the partnerships in their relevancy and appropriate preparation of their students for the markets in which they work.”

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