SAN DIEGO — It’s time to step up innovation when it comes to serving college students, especially in terms of preparing them for the workplace.
That was a common thread Wednesday at the open plenary of the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual Workforce Development Institute (WDI), as well as sessions of the AACC John E. Roueche Future Leaders Institute (FLI), which was held for the first time in conjunction with WDI.
During the concluding panel of FLI, veteran college leaders encouraged prospective leaders to think differently about how their colleges serve students as well as local employers. Too often, community colleges simply market the programs they already have and don’t evaluate whether such programs are of value to students or employers, said Joe May, chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District. He added that he too once followed the same approach: “I looked at it as a transaction. I didn’t comprehend that this was about problem-solving.”
That “problem-solving” refers to working with employers to help ensure that their workers have the required skills for the jobs. Several of the panelists noted that community colleges are a business, and they should embrace that aspect, especially when it comes to being nimble and developing non-credit programs to serve specific businesses or industry-sector needs.
Jo Alice Blodin, president of Clark State Community College in Ohio, cited as an example her college’s work to provide certification that would allow local suppliers to bid on projects with a local Honda plant and Air Force base. The cost of such certification was often prohibitive for some local suppliers, but Clark State was able to provide it for about $4,000, rather than in the $20,000 range. Those suppliers were then able to bid on million-dollar contracts.
“That’s a big economic impact,” Blodin said.
New state plans
The U.S. Education Department (ED) would like to see more innovation like that. Community colleges, and higher education in general, need to take a better pulse of employers’ workforce needs, as well as develop ways to bring those workers back for “re-skilling,” when needed, said Scott Stump, assistant secretary for career, technical and adult education at ED. That includes offering various pathways outside the traditional four-year college track, whether through apprenticeships, experiential learning or upgrading skills for incumbent workers.
The reauthorization of the Perkins Act last year provides an opportunity for colleges and employers to think differently in preparing students for the workforce, especially through flexible, non-credit programs, Stump said. States are currently submitting their one-year transition plans for the new Perkins law, but then they will have to submit plans that will cover the following few years. Those plans should explore options that best serve students.
“Don’t go into this with a compliance mentality,” Stump said. “We’re looking for innovation.”
In fact, the department intentionally isn’t providing FAQs because it’s looking for outside-the-box proposals, he said. For example, ED wants states to work with stakeholders to determine what the funding split should be between secondary and postsecondary schools.
Stump added that ED this spring will open applications for new innovation and modernization grants for Perkins recipients that will be distributed in July.