Training or educating?

Community colleges try to meet employers’ needs for workers, since many students are eager to fill entry-level jobs, writes Community College Dean. But there’s a difference between “foot-in-the-door skills” and “promotion and career” skills.

When he worked at a for-profit university, employers said that “at as long as students had a basic set of technical skills, what separated one student from another was the soft skills.”

Those who were merely trained may get the foot in the door quickly, if they were trained in the right thing at the right time, but they won’t last long and they won’t get promoted. Moving from working the help desk to managing the help desk requires the soft skills that real education can help develop.

The catch, of course, is that when you’re unemployed and desperate, all that long-term stuff is very much the kind of thing you will get to later. You need an income, and you need it now.

While grants fund short-term job training, “faculty, who own the curricular development say-so through the governance process, focus almost entirely on degree programs,” the dean writes.

They don’t want to “train,” and they’ll use the term disparagingly. They want to educate, and they want the full two years (or, in practice, more) to do it.

But not every student can take two or three years before making money. Some never will, and some will get around to it later after they’ve taken care of business. Basing everything on the assumed ideal of the first-time, full-time, degree-seeking student — the IPEDS cohort — is easier, but it doesn’t address the daily reality of the lives of most of the students who come here.

Most community college students who aim for an associate degree don’t reach their goal; “some college” but no credential does not increase their job prospects or earnings, labor economists have found.  Success rates are much higher for students seeking vocational certificates. Certificates that take one year or longer to earn do improve earnings significantly.  Community colleges would help their job-seeking students by offering “stackable” certificates that eventually lead to a degree for those who want to continue their education.