“Upskilling or retraining people to have the skills that are needed in today’s economy is critical and the community colleges play a tremendous role in that,” said Marianne Glick of the Glick Family Foundation, who attended the conference.
Foundation representatives and grantmakers from across the country gathered to hear from the nation’s foremost practitioners who are transforming the way community colleges are offering post-secondary credentials that help the nation’s working poor gain economic mobility in a changing economy.
The conference was conducted at Valencia College, among the nation’s highest ranking community colleges. Valencia was named the inaugural winner of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in 2011 and has only grown in the years since. It impacts the Central Florida region to the tune of more than $1 billion. On June 1, attendees were invited to a private tour of Valencia’s career training programs in architecture, engineering and technology, EMT/paramedic, dental hygiene and cardiovascular technology programs and facilities.
Valencia offers a 2+2+2 architecture pre-major, which highlights the strong partnerships it has with other Florida universities. Students earn an associate’s degree in architecture which allows them to matriculate into an undergraduate program at Central Florida and the University of Florida. Valencia’s partnerships with these universities allows architecture students to complete an entire master’s degree in their own backyard.
Similar local education options are available for Valencia’s engineering and computer programming students. A 3-D printing lab is available, where a team of students recently created a fully-functioning electric violin. Along with the state’s colleges and universities, Central Florida’s world-renowned theme park industry maintains close ties to the engineering and computer programming department.
Valencia College’s EMT program was named one of the nation’s top 40 programs in 2013. Students completing the paramedic certificate earn around $43,000, and emergency medical technicians earn more than $51,000 per year on average.
Valencia also operates a fully-functional dental hygiene clinic as part of its dental hygiene program. Students and faculty participate in the annual Give Kids a Smile event, which assists more than 500 underserved children in the community. Dental hygiene graduates earn more than $45,000 on average in their first year.
The school’s cardiovascular technology program, established in 2002, is among its newest. Graduates pass the national licensing exam at a rate of 90-100 percent and earn starting salaries ranging from $37,000-$50,000.
“Ultimately, you want students to have purposeful pathways presented to them that will have labor market value. We saw several of those programs today,” said Michael Dupont of the Schusterman Family Foundation.
Adding Rungs to the Ladder
The conference opened on June 2 with remarks from Sandy Shugart, president of Valencia College. Valencia aims to harness the potential of Central Florida’s working poor to fill a skills gap resulting from the ongoing retirement of baby boomers. The incoming workforce is underskilled and needs to be trained.
“The idea is to recognize that most of the workforce we’re going to need is not going to come from the linear pipeline of public schools,” said Shugart.
Along with the traditional two-year associate degree programs many attendees toured the day before, the school has also created accelerated education programs allowing students to achieve certificates that will put them to work in a matter of weeks. The training programs are developed in partnership with local industries who ensure the certificates are verified.
“The challenge for these students is opportunity cost. You can’t tell a 31-year-old with three children and a car payment…to take two years off to go to school. You just can’t do that,” said Shugart.
The certificates allow the students to gain employment or secure better paying jobs. Valencia often sees students who completed one certificate return to complete others, particularly in the industries of which they are currently employed.
“In less than a year, with only a few weeks off, they’ve gone from eight bucks an hour to 14 bucks an hour,” explained Shugart. “This is adding rungs to the ladder.”
Shugart believes the role for philanthropy extends beyond endowing scholarships. Philanthropy’s resources allow it to build capacity and leverage partnerships within industry. The additional programming requires a certain focus of full-time employees that the community colleges cannot sustain.
“So if I am partnering with (a nonprofit), I don’t just want a check from them,” said Shugart. “I want them to join us in the design of the work and summon other people who ought to be involved in the design of the work to the table.”
Abandoning the Cafeteria Approach
“If you have not been to a graduation of an adult basic education class – go. It’s as much of a religious experience than any of us have on a Sunday. It will change your view of this population,” said Monty Sullivan, who also joined the panel discussion on adult basic education (ABE).
The academic needs of many adults are so great that they face extensive adult basic education class loads before they start building credits toward a certificates or associate’s degree program. Outstanding community colleges are making it possible for even the lowest-educated students to get on track, stay on track and secure in-demand educational and technical skills.
“It is the biggest obstacle to social and economic mobility in the nation,” he said.
Among the other panelists was Jon Kerr, director of adult basic education at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, who discussed the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training Program (I-BEST) in Washington. I-BEST harnesses team teaching by pairing a basic skills instructor with a traditional academic instructor to teach the students both basic skills and academic skills at same time. They are able to earn college credits while they are also learning the skills for work.
“I-BEST is truly a pathway out of poverty for our students,” said Kerr.
I-Best students are three times as likely to earn college credit and nine times as likely to earn a credential. I-BEST students earned 92 percent of the credentials of basic skills students in Washington.
Studying the Long-term Outcomes
Gallup and USA Funds conducted the first large-scale representative study of associate’s degree holders in the U.S. looking at their long-term outcomes in work and life. The results of this study were presented during lunch panel of the conference.
“I think it’s an incredible study that’s going to speak to a coming data revolution in the education landscape,” proclaimed Brandon Busteed, executive director of education and workforce development at Gallup.
The study sampled more than 2,500 associate’s degree holders of whom that is their highest degree completed. The goal of the study was to measure the value and effectiveness in the eye of the consumer of the educational experience rather than simply evaluating an institution’s education value based off of other amenities.
The study found little statistical difference between those with bachelor’s degrees and associate’s degrees in economic categories like unemployment, employee engagement, and job satisfaction. In fact, in many categories, those with associate’s degrees rated their employment situations higher than those with bachelor’s degrees.
A higher percentage of respondents with an associate’s degree also felt that they studied under engaged professors and mentors who encouraged them in their career choices.
“Keep in mind, the average time in an associate’s degree is half the time of a bachelor’s degree,” said Busteed.
Carol D’Amico, executive vice president of national engagement and philanthropy of USA Funds, expounded on the implications of the study, including the effects on curriculum, such as emphasizing professional experience gained while earning a degree. D’Amico also explained the need for higher education to engage in a long-term career path for the students.
“Associate’s degrees are interesting to us not only because of the emphasis on community colleges these days, and their contribution to the economic development of the country, but also for the importance of those middle skills jobs,” said D’Amico.
The fact that the study and index now exists is another significant implication. It provides a new measurement of the return on investment of higher education, but from a different point of view.
“We’ve never measured it from the consumer’s point of view before,” said D’Amico.
Employer partnerships are essential to the success of guided pathways and other middle skills training programs. Effective community colleges use data-driven information about local workforce dynamics, including wage and hiring data, to build strategic partnerships with employers. Members of this panel discussion shared their experiences in co-developing classes, accelerated degree programs and certificate trainings in collaboration with employers to expand job opportunities for both new and incumbent workers.
Miami Dade College joined the Beacon Council, a public-private partnership that aims to increase economic development in Miami, nearly a decade ago. The school restructured most of its academic curricula based off of data published from the council on the top ten local industries with the highest growth potential.
Animation was among the industries named in the Beacon Council report, which led the school to send a contingent of instructors to California to study the latest technologies in the field. As a result, the school created the Miami Animation and Gaming International Complex program modeled after Pixar Animation Studios.
“I cannot tell you how much attention that (program) has gotten since we opened the door. We cannot keep up with the demand for the slots to get into the program,” said Eduardo Padron, president of Miami Dade College.
In North Carolina, the Palmer Foundation has partnered with Sandhill Community College to develop a trades program offering courses to help fill the skills gap for local employers. The foundation supported the renovation of a facility and formed partnerships with local businesses to help identify the needs of the local economy. The trades program opened in 2014 and offers certificates as a production technician, welder, and electrical apprenticeships.
“We are the new apprenticeship program,” said Penny Enroth, chairwoman of the Palmer Foundation.
Crossing the Finish Line
Most community college students have children, full-time jobs and other competing demands on their time and resources. The best-structured educational career pathways can be derailed by a single child care crisis or a medical emergency. The final panel of the conference discussed how community colleges are building complementary support structures to help non-traditional students cross the jobs finish line. How do you build a “growth mindset?” – which is a topic explored in a recent report published by the Joyce Foundation, "Empowering Adults to Thrive at Work: Personal Success Skills for 21st Century Jobs: A Report on Promising Research and Practice."
“Community colleges are accessing a new market – a new market of non-traditional students,” said Rosa Maria Castaneda, senior associate of Family Economic Success at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “A quarter of (community college) students are parents and many are single parents.”
The Annie E. Casey Foundation has created a framework that serves the non-traditional student in achieving economic opportunity. The foundation’s Family Economic Success program takes a three-pronged approach to help students gain an education: remove obstacles to attend school, invest in a skilled pathway, and accelerate the timeline.
“What it takes for families to succeed and to stabilize their finances is not a part of the language of colleges and what they think they do,” said Castaneda.
Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina partners with 11 community colleges to offer skills certificates and adult education courses. Students receive training at the Goodwill facilities, taught by community colleges professors. The certificates are awarded by the community college.
“Our primary responsibility at my Goodwill is to help people overcome barriers to employment,” said Art Gibel, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina.
The program is part of the Community College/Career Collaboration (C4), an the effort that began in 2009 as a pilot program with three colleges, including Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), to bring the colleges and Goodwill together in their shared mission to better reach at-risk students and underserved communities.
“We operate as though we’re the same organization, serving low-income adults in job training programs that lead to the completion of certificates and associate’s degrees,” said Bob Templin, former president of NOVA.