Underemployed four-year graduates are enrolling in community colleges to learn job skills, reports the Chicago Tribune.
In 2010, Jessica Underwood graduated from Carthage College in Wisconsin “with a stellar academic record, a can-do attitude and a newly minted business degree.” Her bachelor’s degree was “just like a ticket to nowhere,” Underwood told the Trib. Despite sending as many as 10 job applications a day, she found only low-wage, low-skilled office, retail and telemarketing jobs.
Three years after graduation, Underwood decided that she needed to reboot — and fast. At the College of DuPage, she enrolled in the paralegal certification program, which offered a robust hiring outlook, but also the chance to reinvent herself in only 18 months.
She owes $60,000 in student loans for her business degree.
Illinois community colleges are touting accelerated programs to help the underemployed get a fresh start.
At Prairie State College, the ”Career in a Year” campaign boosted enrollment by 50 percent in programs training home inspectors and dialysis and pharmacy technicians.
Harper College‘s launch of a “fast track” advanced manufacturing program — certification in one semester, followed by a paid internship with a partner company — attracted a standing-room-only crowd.
More than ever, companies want people adept at communicating, critical thinking and problem solving — all hallmarks of a liberal arts education. Studies continue to show that people with a four-year degree earn more, on average, over the course of their lifetime than those without college degrees. But employers say there’s often a mismatch between what traditional colleges are producing and what they need.
“Middle-skills” jobs, which require a certificate or associate degree, can qualify graduates for middle-class paychecks. Demand is high in health care fields, information technology and manufacturing, reports the Tribune.
As Eastman Kodak’s slid into bankruptcy, disrupting the economy of Rochester, New York, Monroe Community College remade its workforce development programs to help its town recover, reports Community College Week.
Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb once accounted for 60 percent of Rochester’s workforce. That’s now down to 5 percent.
“We went from the Big 3 with thousands of workers to lots of companies with fewer than 100 employees,” says Anne Kress, MCC’s president. Because smaller companies couldn’t afford to train their workers, the college became a “convener,” working with industry clusters instead of individual companies.
“It’s a natural role for community colleges to take a leadership position in responding to workforce development needs,” Kress said. “These needs change frequently. We are naturally positioned to get people around the table to address them.”
Kress tapped Todd M. Oldham, then associate vice president of Corporate & Continuing Education at Clark College in Vancouver, Wash., to head the new workforce division at MCC. His charge: rebuild MCC’s long dormant bridges to business, industry and economic development sectors and develop strategies to respond to local economic development and training needs — all without constructing just another administrative silo isolated from the traditional academic functions of the college.
MCC is creating pathways to middle-skill jobs in fields such as computer technology, health care and advanced manufacturing, Oldham says.
Jim Sydor, a 1971 MCC graduate and owner of Stefan Sydor Optics, is helping the college strengthen its optical systems technology program. “Rochester is a big optics town, because of Eastman Kodak and Bausch & Lomb,” he says. But MCC’s optics program withered when Kodak began laying off workers. Students didn’t realize there are 85 smaller optics companies in town looking for qualified workers. With a $250,000 gift from Sydor, MCC rewrote the optics curriculum, bought new equipment and recruited students.
MCC provides a summer career prep program for high school students as well as MCC Career Coach, a web-based search tool showing connections between areas of study and local job opportunities.
Community-college graduates with technical degrees start work at higher wages than four-year graduates, according to new research, notes the Hechinger Report.
Berevan Omer graduated on a Friday in February with an associate’s degree from Nashville State Community College and started work the following Monday in his new job as a computer-networking engineer at a local television station, making about $50,000 a year.
That’s 15 percent higher than the average starting salary for graduates not only from community colleges, but for bachelor’s degree holders from four-year universities.
. . . Omer’s friends with bachelor’s degrees “aren’t learning skills,” he says. “They’re just learning all this theory. I’ve got an applied degree. And I’m out there making a good amount of change.”
Workers with bachelor’s degrees may catch up later in their careers, but nearly 30 percent of workers with associate’s degrees earn more than the average for workers with bachelor’s degrees, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
“Middle-skill” workers — lab technicians, computer engineers, draftsmen, radiation therapists, paralegals and machinists — don’t need a four-year degree to earn middle-class wages.
“A good technical-oriented associate’s degree program at a good community college is actually turning out graduates whose skills meet the needs of the regional labor market,” says Mark Schneider, vice president of the American Institutes for Research.
With a two-year community-college degree, air-traffic controllers can make $113,547, radiation therapists $76,627, dental hygienists $70,408, nuclear medicine technologists $69,638, nuclear technicians $68,037, registered nurses $65,853, and fashion designers $63,170, the online website CareerBuilder.com reported in January.
“I would not suggest anyone look down their nose at the associate’s degree,” says Jeff Strohl, director of research at the Georgetown center.
Compared to other industrialized nations, the U.S. ranks high in bachelor’s degrees but only fair to middling in sub-baccalaureate credentials. Ten percent of American workers have the vocational certificates and technical associate degrees needed for middle-skill jobs, compared with 24 percent of Canadians and 19 percent of Japanese.
Apprenticeships are making a come back – and not just in trade union jobs –but only a third of today’s apprentices are community college students. Apprenticeship has spread from construction trades to “skilled occupations such as computer operator, machinist, dental laboratory technician, tool and dye maker, electronic technician” and more, reports Community College Times.
In Switzerland, Austria and Germany, apprenticeships provide training for more than half of young people. There and elsewhere, apprenticeships have been grown to include information technology, finance, advanced manufacturing, and maritime occupations. Germany has the oldest and best-known apprenticeship system. It offers programs leading to recognized qualifications in about 350 different occupations.
In the U.S., “apprenticeship programs offer an array of advantages over pure postsecondary education programs,” concludes a Center for American Progress report by economist Robert I. Lerman.
“Since apprenticeship openings depend on employer demand, mismatches between skills taught and supplied and skills demanded in the work place are unusual. Apprenticeships provide workers with a full salary so that participants can earn while they acquire valued skills. Apprentices learn in the context of real work settings and attain not only occupational skills but other work-related skills, including communication, problem solving, allocating resources, and dealing with supervisors and a diverse set of coworkers.”
Community colleges can provide the academic instruction apprentices need, while employers provide the occupational training and workplace skills, Lerman writes.
Some community colleges are “slow to develop new courses that are required as new programs or new technologies in existing programs arise,” reports Community College Times. But there are a growing number of successful apprenticeship programs.
In Washington State, more than 200 students are learning the ironworking trade through apprenticeships run by the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, a state-funded partnership among community colleges, industry and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The programs supply workers for Boeing Corp., the state’s largest employer.
South Carolina locates its major apprenticeship initiative, Apprenticeship Carolina, at its 16 technical colleges. The state-funded system is growing fast; since July 2007, the number of registered apprenticeship programs in South Carolina has grown from 90 to 230. All 16 of the state’s technical colleges are participating in apprenticeship programs.
The Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship program was started in the 1990s and has matured into the nation’s largest apprenticeship opportunity for high school students. Under the two-year program, high school juniors and seniors complete up to 900 hours of work-based learning and related courses. Many also earn college credits, and 70 percent go on to higher education.
Apprenticeship could be used to prepare young people for the growing number of “middle-skill jobs” that require some postsecondary training but not a bachelor’s degree.
Community colleges’ mix of job training and academic education creates good citizens, says Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, in an interview with Community College Journal excerpted in Community College Times.
. . . ours is a society based on work. Those who are not equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to get, and keep, good jobs are denied the genuine social inclusion that is the real test of full citizenship. Those denied the education required for good jobs tend to drop out of the mainstream culture, polity and economy. . . . If community college educators cannot fulfill their economic mission to help youths and adults become successful workers, they also will fail in their cultural and political missions to create good neighbors, good citizens and self-possessed individuals who can live fully in their time.
Almost a third of new job openings between 2010 and 2020 will require middle skills — more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree — Carnevale predicts. Some of these jobs pay middle-class wages: 62 percent of middle-skill jobs pay $35,000 or more per year, his research has found. Thirty-one percent of entry-level associate-degree jobs and 27 percent of jobs requiring licensure or certification pay more than entry-level BA positions.
“Before the 1980s, employers provided entry-level training to the vast majority of middle-skill workers, largely in blue-collar occupations,” Carnevale says. Now community colleges help young people “get through the door to jobs that pay.”
There is a “missing middle” between high school and four-year college, says Carnevale.
Perhaps because employers did the entry-level training for so long in the United States, the American education system has been built around the four-year bachelor’s degree. For institutional and cultural reasons, the “college is a BA” mantra continues. Students march in lockstep into four-year institutions, many without any clue of how they will attach to the labor market at the end of their four to six years. This blind homage paid to the prestigious BA job is largely responsible for the difficulty in recruiting and training workers, along with the lack of information about how viable and upwardly mobile middle-skill jobs can be.
In spite of high unemployment, “2 million jobs persistently go unfilled for want of skilled workers,” says Carnevale.
Community colleges are “ideally positioned to close the skills gap and train out-of-work Americans for “middle-skill jobs,” write Anthony Carnevale and Nicole Smith of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) in GOOD. Sixty percent of jobs today require some postsecondary education or training, and the percentage will continue to rise, they predict.
With the help of community colleges, 1.5 million unemployed Americans could qualify for good jobs that require more than high school training but less than a bachelor’s degree, the researchers estimate. Roughly 21 percent of all jobs require “middle: skills: 29 million pay at least $35,000 a year and nearly 10 million pay more than $50,000. A “significant number actually pay more than entry-level jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree.”
However, community colleges are under pressure to raise graduation rates and ensure that graduates find jobs in their field.
With completion rates as the new criterion of success, community colleges run the risk of no longer being open access—a safe haven for students looking to complete remedial work, basic education or professional training that may or may not lead to a piece of paper certifying some kind of “completion” of a course of study.
Carnevale and Smith recommend four ways to help community colleges close the skills gap while balancing the goals of open access and high completion rates:
Community colleges should be allowed to have lower graduation rates than current metrics suggest—especially if they are tasked with having open access and non-traditional students.
. . . Funding levels should be attached to programs, not students, and should reflect the varying needs of those programs. For example, nursing programs that require access to very expensive technical equipment should be funded at a higher level than, say, courses in the liberal arts.
Strengthening the high school-to-college pipeline could reduce the number of students in community colleges who need remedial help, and ultimately lead to better completion rates for everyone.
Both community colleges and four-year institutions should provide more concrete data about the money value of college courses, programs and majors. The expected payoff, long-term costs and value of a college major should be information that all colleges make available to every potential and current student.
Community colleges will be of increasing importance in helping Americans prepare for the workforce and retrain to meet new workforce demands, Carnevale and Smith conclude.
Career and technical education is “the missing middle ground in American education and workforce preparation,” concludes a new Georgetown report, Five Ways That Pay Along the Way to the B.A. Some 29 million middle-class jobs — 21 percent of all jobs — are open to workers with employer-based training, industry-based certifications, apprenticeships, postsecondary certificates and associate’s degrees, according to the study, jointly released with Civic Enterprises. These jobs pay $35,000 to $75,000 annually; nearly 40 percent pay more than $50,000 a year.
The U.S. ranks second in the world in the share of workers with bachelor’s degrees, but only 16th in sub-baccalaureate credentials, Georgetown advises.
“Compared to other advanced economies, the United States underinvests in sub-baccalaureate, career and technical education,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, the Center’s Director and the report’s lead author.
In the postindustrial economy, career tech jobs are shifting from blue collar to white: Only one third of CTE jobs are blue collar, half are white collar and 15 percent are in health care. However, men still hold 18 out of the 29 million middle-class “middle” jobs.
For both men and women, the best jobs are in sub-baccalaureate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and health care, where over 80 percent of jobs pay middle-class wages.
While four-year graduates earn more, on average, than middle-skill workers, certificates and associate degrees can be a step on the path to a bachelor’s degree in time, the report notes.
Career and technical education has lost federal funding in recent years, points out the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Obama administration cut millions from programs created by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act. Georgetown urges the federal government to invest in career tech, setting up a “learning and earning exchange” to show students how to qualify for middle-class jobs. The report also urges integrating high school and postsecondary CTA with employer-based training.
“We need more pathways to postsecondary education,” Mr. Carnevale says. “Without that, we are creating a class-based society in America.”
. . . The exchange would provide students with information about specific training and education needed for jobs. In addition, educators could better tailor their programs to the job market, and employers would have a way to find new workers.
Employer training is the largest path to a middle-skill job, the report found. Postsecondary certificates — awarded to one million Americans a year — are now the second most common credential, after the bachelor’s degree. Some 800,000 earn associate degrees, but only half of those are in career fields such as nursing, business, and information technology. Registered apprenticeships reach 400,000 Americans; 90 percent are male.
By filling the skills gap, “community colleges can be our salvation,” writes New York Times columnist Joe Nocera.
Gerald Chertavian’s Year Up, which helps disadvantaged high school graduates learn workplace skills and behaviors, is partnering with community colleges, such as Miami Dade College, to educate students for “middle-skill jobs” requiring a certificate or associate degree but not a bachelor’s. “Up to a third of all jobs are middle-skill jobs,” says Chertavian.
While community colleges always have helped “grease the wheels of social mobility,” their primary role today is not helping students earn a bachelor’s degree, Nocera writes.
Now with the skills gap such a pressing problem — and a high school education so clearly inadequate for the modern economy — the task of teaching those skills is falling to community colleges.
Yet many states have “ravaged the budgets of their community college systems, just as they have for many state university systems.”
In Florida, said (Miami Dade President Eduardo) Padrón, community colleges have seen their state support drop by 21 percent in three years. “State support used to account for 75 percent of our budget,” he said. “Now it is only 45 percent.” As a result, tuition at Miami Dade is $3,000 a year — a lot of money for people of little means. Given what’s at stake, it would be hard to imagine anything more shortsighted than paring back support for community colleges.
In Virginia and North Carolina, community colleges work closely with employers to design job training programs, Nocera writes. In other states, community colleges “remain the stepchildren of the educational system.”
Math teachers at my daughter’s old high school oppose a plan to require all students to pass college-prep classes required for admission to California universities, known as A-G courses. They say some Palo Alto High students — disproportionately black, Hispanic and disabled — can’t pass the school’s demanding Algebra II class, which requires more than the UC/CSU standard. Water it down to the minimal level and students will end up in remedial math in college, the teachers warn.
The department chair, Radu Toma, wrote the letter (posted on wecandobetterpaloalto.org), which is signed by his colleagues. He taught my daughter Geometry in ninth grade and AP Calculus in 12th grade. Her Algebra II and pre-calc teachers signed too.
The math teachers are snobs who only want to teach advanced classes, argues LaToya Baldwin Clark in the Palo Alto Weekly. Require A-G for graduation, she writes, and create an easier Algebra II class for average students who don’t have parents who can tutor them — or pay for tutoring.
By the department’s own admission, even the regular lane Algebra II class greatly exceeds the UC/CSU. In the view of Toma and his colleagues, “diluting the standards in our regular lane to basic benchmarks which might allow every student to pass Algebra II would end up hurting the district’s reputation.” The department refuses to teach an Algebra II that satisfies UC/CSU requirements that students can actually pass. And where does the Paly math department think those students who fail to complete Algebra II should go, rather than to college? They can “go on to community colleges or jobs for which district prepares them better than most districts.”
The reputation of a high school is enhanced when all students go to four-year colleges.
Last year, 85 percent of all high school graduates in the district met the UC/CSU requirements. But only 5 percent of special-ed students, 15 percent of blacks and 40 percent of Hispanic graduates were eligible for state universities.
Many of the black and Hispanic students have transferred from neighboring East Palo Alto, a low-income and working-class town, under a desegregation agreement. Many of the Palo Alto students are the children of very well-educated parents who work in high-tech or at Stanford. There’s no question that Palo Alto’s two high schools are designed to prepare students for very competitive colleges and universities.
The local community college, Foothill, is one of the best in the state. But graduation rates are low for community college students. Starting at a four-year university — San Jose State is the likely choice — would raise the odds of earning a bachelor’s degree.
But we’re still talking about long odds. Most remedial math students never earn a degree.
If a basic Algebra II is created, it should be aligned with college placement tests, so students know if they’re on track to take college-level or remedial classes. If the high school maintains high standards in its regular-lane Algebra II, then teachers need a strategy to help math-challenged students pass.
There’s another option: Work with Foothill to create a career-prep track. Community colleges offer programs that qualify students for a “middle-skill” job in two years or less. Some require advanced algebra, but others do not. But this would be seen as setting low expectations for other people’s kids. It wouldn’t fly.
There will be middle-class jobs for high school graduates — especially as baby boomers retire — but there won’t be enough to go around, concludes the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce’s new Career Clusters report.
In 1973, 72 percent of jobs were open to workers with a high school diploma or less. That will fall to 37 percent by 2018, the report predicts.
About 29 percent of jobs will require “middle skills,” such as a certificate or associate degree or “some college.”
Wages rise with education: Only 36 percent of jobs for workers with only a high school diploma pay $35,000 or more, compared to 54 percent of jobs for associate degree graduates and 69 percent of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree.
High school-level jobs are found in four male dominated career clusters: manufacturing, construction, transportation, and hospitality. Of these four clusters, only jobs in manufacturing and construction still pay relatively good wages; particularly for those who obtain on-the-job-training.
There will be fewer manufacturing jobs, but retiring baby boomers will create many openings for the younger generation.
Women need postsecondary education to earn a middle-class wage, the study found. Health care is the most promising field for women with a certificate or associate degree.
The highest paying jobs for workers with some college or an associate degree are in manufacturing and in business, management and administration. For example, operations managers with an associate degree average $71,000 and administrative support staff earn $36,100.
In the manufacturing cluster, associate degree holders earn $43,200 as computer and machine repair technicians. First-line supervisors of mechanics, installers and repairers earned $61,000.