Washington Watch is written by AACC’s government relations office.
Yesterday, Joe Schaffer, president of Laramie County Community College, testified on behalf of his college as well as the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) before the House Small Business Subcommittee on Innovation and Workforce Development. Schaffer also chairs the AACC Board of Directors Committee on Public Policy and Government Relations.
The hearing was titled “Putting America Back to Work: The Role of Workforce Development and Small Business Rehiring.” Schaffer’s testimony focused on the role of community colleges in helping in job creation as well as workforce education and training. He also spoke to the strengths, and needs, of rural community colleges.
Community college approach to small business
Schaffer’s teed up his testimony by noting that, “There aren’t many things more American than its community colleges and our small business. While there is a comfortable familiarity among the nation’s community colleges and its Main Streets, individually they are as unique as the economic and cultural fabric of the communities they serve.” He added that community colleges have historically helped small business in technical assistance, professional development, research and development, and other services.
Schaffer emphasized that public policy needs to focus on job creators as well job seekers, referring to the recent precipitous drop in “young” businesses (i.e., those less than a year old). Shaffer stated that community colleges can help in this regard by promoting entrepreneurship, as in the Southeast Wyoming Innovation Launchpad or Hillsborough Community College’s InLab.
The testimony also addressed the ongoing skills gap, which the ongoing pandemic has far from eliminated, as well as the nation’s demographic trends, in which immigration is a critical element of maintain a sufficiently sized workforce. Schaffer noted that “employers are being forced to rethink and innovate” and that this will necessitate training for new jobs.
Coronavirus pandemic and community colleges
Subcommittee members’ questions inevitably focused on the challenges created by the pandemic. In response to one, Schaffer noted the “great uncertainty of what fall looks like for community colleges” and said that on his campus, fall applications are up, but that enrolments are substantially down. He also said that, when the pandemic hit, “across the nation we saw great innovations coming out from our instructors,” but that “you simply cannot replace the value of interactive, hands-on learning” and that “if we don’t figure this out, we will lose people from the [educational] pipeline.”
Rural college role
Schaffer also addressed some of the particular features of rural community colleges. He spoke to the role that they could play in revitalizing rural America, particularly if accompanied by government development of rural infrastructure and training programs directed to these institutions, with a particular emphasis on manufacturing, He noted that only fourteen percent of the population resides in rural areas, which in turns creates a less congenial business environment. Schaffer referred to the desirability of people being given economic incentives to reside in less congested, expensive, and fast-paced areas. In response to a question, Schaffer noted that “broadband is an issue for us…it’s an issue across America.” He also emphasized that rural communities have infrastructure needs that extend well beyond broadband.
Public policy considerations
Shaffer’s testimony delved into AACC’s workforce public policy agenda. This included the college effort to secure a dedicated training program in the next coronavirus stimulus legislation, which was highlighted in member questioning, the continuing effort to secure Pell Grant funding for shorter term program offerings, and the upcoming reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. AACC’s direct involvement in creating more apprenticeships through the Expanding Community College Apprenticeship initiative was also highlighted.