Pima Community College chancellor Lee Lambert was forthright in stressing the need for his institution and others to provide educational opportunities within their regions.
“The pandemic has brought a heightened sense of urgency to our historic mission of supporting social and economic mobility for the diverse students and working adults that community colleges serve,” he said.
As COVID-19 continues to fuel a crisis in the employment sector – where some 29 million Americans are still collecting unemployment benefits and job losses stand at more than 10 million, it is also pressing the need for higher education to get creative and better serve an underserved population of students by providing them with short-term credential options and 21st century skills.
Workers are looking to enhance their economic standing. Employers are looking to give them opportunities. The linchpin to bring them together? Community colleges.
On Wednesday, the national nonprofit Education Design Lab announced that six community colleges and systems would be part of the first cohort to help put students on micro-pathways to better careers via a $3 million gift from the Community College Growth Engine Fund.
“Like the students they serve, community colleges are reinventing themselves in response to the triple crisis of a global pandemic, massive unemployment, and a national reckoning on race,” said Chike Aguh, head of economic mobility pathways at Education Design Lab. “This work is about community colleges supercharging local workforce development and our national economy. We will equip colleges and their regional partners with new tools, networks and capital to help workers up- and re-skill for jobs that the market needs and future demands.”
One of the chosen six is Pima Community College. Located in southern Arizona – where industrial, technology and defense employers need skilled workers – Pima will be providing courses that prepare students for futures in robotics, building and construction.
Lambert said the crisis helped to “develop new and more flexible credentials that are more responsive to the rapidly-changing needs of the labor market.”
The chosen ones
The Education Design Lab, which designs, implements, and scales new learning models for higher education, defines a micro-pathway as “two or more stackable credentials that can be packaged as a validated market signal connecting learners to employment in high growth careers.” This project, which aims to build skills such as resilience, collaboration and problem-solving, is being funded by various stakeholders, including Walmart and the Charles Koch, DeLaski Family and Walton Family foundations.
Community colleges will be given a $100,000 “implementation grant” to pair with employers and other stakeholders to help deliver education opportunities to workers looking to advance their careers from low-wage or entry-level positions to median or above-wage levels.
“Thanks to this grant from Education Design Lab, our community colleges will continue to create and implement educational credentials that will lead to the family-sustaining wages and employment opportunities that working New Yorkers deserve,” said FÁ©lix Matos RodrÁguez, chancellor of the City University of New York system, one of the lucky six which will focus on community health and information technology.
Like the CUNY schools, the large, singly accredited Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis, will focus its mission of outreach and credentialing on IT as well as manufacturing.
Seattle Colleges will go a step further than most in this initiative, not only giving opportunities to those who are unemployed but to those who are homeless or previously incarcerated. The goal: to give them digital skills to be able to work within creative, services or technology fields.
Community colleges not only will receive guidance on starting up from the Education Design Lab but also from nonprofits Workcred, Opportunity@Work, the Manufacturing Institute and the SkillUp Coalition. In addition, the group of six will be able to leverage research from the Federal Reserve Banks of Philadelphia and Cleveland on the most in-demand careers so they can put together stackable credentials for students.
That expertise will help two other community colleges in their skills-focused support for students and bridging the gap with medical employers. Austin Community College District in Central Texas will feature micro-pathways for Certified Producation Technicians as well as Certified Medical Assistants. At Prince George’s Community College in Maryland, students will get trained up for careers in allied health, nursing and tech.
Chris Burt is a reporter and editor for University Business. He can be reached at lrp.com