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AACC begins work to implement 21st-Century blueprint

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Commentary

Keith Bird
(right) of the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce facilitated last week's meeting on workforce development. He was joined by AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus (center) and Kenneth Ender, president of Harper College in Illinois.​

​With its recommendations on setting a new course for community colleges for the next decade on the table, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has started work on developing strategies to implement those plans, beginning with workforce development.

AACC last week convened community college leaders from across the country to discuss workforce development and the implications of the recommendations in AACC’s Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future. The participants reviewed AACC initiatives, how the association can best support member colleges in workforce and economic development, and policy considerations in the field.

“Workforce is so important to our country and to what we do at AACC,” said Walter Bumphus, the association’s president and CEO, noting that he will use input from the implementation teams to help him develop priorities for the report’s recommendations.

Members of the AACC workforce and economic development team​

The report, released in April by a blue-ribbon commission, focused on three broad areas of improvement: redesigning students’ educational experience, reinventing institutional roles and resetting the system. The commission included seven recommendations under those three areas, from improving college readiness, to strategically targeting public and private investments.

Better ties to economic development

At Friday’s workforce development meeting in Washington, D.C., one of the main threads of conversation was to better align workforce development with economic development. Several participants said that there’s a disconnect regarding how public two-year colleges can help businesses grow and how that helps foster economic development.

Community colleges tend to have strong partnerships with a handful of businesses, but they need to work on developing a system focused on workforce and economic development. Several panelists called for a regional approach using data to target high-wage, high-growth industries, which are seen as key to stimulating the economy.

Identifying those industries is only part of the battle. Even in the current economic climate, many companies are scrambling to find skilled workers. Participants at the meeting cited companies from Japan and Germany, among others, that have built plants in their colleges’ service areas and can’t find enough trained workers. 

It’s not all about big companies. Attendees noted that entrepreneurships and small business development also play an important role in developing economies. Such business often contract with large companies to provide specialized services.

Emphasizing career pathways

Several members of the workforce group—which comprised mostly community college chancellors, presidents and vice presidents—agreed that two-year colleges and their partners should begin to emphasize a career approach to workforce development. While helping workers develop skills to attain a job is important, it would be more useful to show workers how such jobs fit on a career ladder and what education and training they need to move up, several participants said.

That led to a discussion on college credit for previous work experience, which can allow workers to complete credentials for job advancement faster. However, there is generally inconsistency regarding how work experience is assessed, often depending on the industry and geographic location.

Team members also noted that top-level administrators at community colleges should receive professional development to help them become better acquainted with workforce development issues.

AACC will develop a  21st-Century Center to coordinate work on implementing the recommendations, Bumphus said. It will serve to offer technical assistance to member colleges, serve as a clearinghouse for research and institutional strategies, gather promising practices and promote leadership development.

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