Community colleges are the key to developing a skilled workforce, concludes a Brookings Institution report, Community Colleges and Economic Recovery: Strategies for State Action. However, states must align workforce development policies with community colleges and colleges must improve student success rates, says Richard Kazis, senior vice president of Jobs for the Future and the author of the new report.
Community colleges, which serve more than a third of U.S. undergraduates, prepare students for fast-growing “middle-skill” jobs. But community colleges must change to raise low retention and completion rates. “We need more students to get degrees and certificates, and we need those credentials to be worth more to the students,” Kazis says.
The report’s recommendations include:
Improving student performance: States need to promote innovation so that more students complete programs that pay off in the economy. States need to collect —and use—better data about student progress and outcomes. They should change institutional and individual incentives to drive toward outcomes, not just enrollment. And they should work closely with both K-12 and workforce development systems to increase college readiness and align advising and support services.
Making the connection between education and economic development: Leaders should target local/regional industry sectors critical to economic growth and promote partnerships that align workforce needs with educational opportunities. They must also create innovative programs for working adults to help open up more employment possibilities for this critical population.
Thinking strategically: Public- and private-sector leaders must include postsecondary education as part of their planning for long-term competitiveness and economic sustainability, including making targeted investments. They need to explain to constituents the critical role these investments are going to play in the future economic security and quality of life for their regions.
The report praised innovative workforce development and education programs in Washington state, Ohio, Indiana, and Connecticut that tie higher education funding to outcomes. It also cited the Illinois’ Critical Skills Shortage Initiative and the Pennsylvania Industry Partnership—as examples of efforts to align postsecondary education and economic growth strategies.