Developing the future workforce

Community colleges are getting a larger share of the higher education spotlight these days. For those of us who have spent many years working to advance the nation’s community colleges, we welcome the coverage and the amplification of the mission and impact of these amazing institutions.

I have had the privilege to serve community colleges in Washington, D.C., for more than a decade. Across party lines and despite divisive politics, community colleges are well respected in the nation’s capital. That respect has been well earned by all of you and the work you do each day to advance our colleges and the millions of students you serve.

It is not all good news. Like you, I was disappointed that the free community college plan was not realized at a federal level. Despite that, College Promise programs are thriving across the country with 348 programs across 47 states. Local and state leaders are seeing the benefit of investing in community colleges and we will continue to advocate for increased resources to support student needs.

This article comes from the current issue of AACC’s Community College Journal, which has a workforce development theme.

Free community college aside, it is important to look at the whole picture when it comes to recent federal legislation. What is clear to me is that community colleges are being discussed at the highest policy levels as a part of the solution to fill the workforce pipeline today and in the future. Historic federal investments in Pell grant funding, completion and retention grants, community college job training and support for wrap-around services that directly impact students remain in the bill (at the time of this publication). These investments show that community colleges are seen as a valuable resource in the eyes of policymakers.

Not the least of these investments is the continued support of workforce education programs. Programs that are designed to positively impact local employment pipelines and provide skills for students to succeed in jobs that pay family-sustaining wages are critical to rebuilding the post-pandemic economy and to developing the future workforce.

The future of work impacts our sector in multiple ways. Students may opt for non-linear pathways that allow them to create their own way to a career (or two). And employees may be more apt to change careers often rather than stay in the job long term. A recent study by PwC on the future of work noted that more than half of today’s workforce will look for new jobs in the next year and 60% of respondents thought that few people would have stable, long-term employment. As educators and employers, increased awareness and financial support at the federal level will help leaders to navigate these changes.

There is no doubt that challenges exist, and new ones will surface. But sometimes we must take a look back to truly appreciate how far we have come.

I applaud you for your unwavering dedication to the students you serve and for telling our story so eloquently. It has made a difference in Washington, D.C., and in the lives of the millions of students that find their success at community colleges.

About the Author

Walter G. Bumphus
is president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.