How to Pivot Two-Year Colleges to Play an Expanded Role in their Local Community
Community colleges continue to serve a pivotal and critical role in meeting and driving local, regional and national economic growth. West Kentucky Community and Technical College is similar to our peers in having a long-standing mission of educating the masses as well as supplying a trained workforce. This is even more important today knowing the number of jobs that go unfilled. Meeting the ever-changing needs of workforce and economic development requires strong regional collaborations across education, business and industry, workforce and economic development.
I believe it is critical for education leaders to raise early career awareness and guided pathways at the 7th grade level through collaboration with our K-12 partners. Those partnerships absolutely must be launched (in some cases) and expanded and enhanced (in others) in order to truly fulfil their potential. Right now, most community colleges focus on working with high school students—juniors and seniors—to create interest in having them enroll on their campuses. This practice must change. We need to work with younger learners to create a college-going culture that helps to color their high school experience.
In order to successfully raise the awareness, opportunities and salaries of technical career offerings and pathways, we need to further increase the professional development of middle school and high school counselors; increase on-site visits and tours on campus to see and learn of the array of offerings; and offer special programming and communication to raise expectations of post-secondary options with parents.
I also believe it is critical for community and technical colleges to raise their visibility and assess their modes of delivery to meet and drive the demands of economic growth. During my first year and a half as President of WKCTC I initiated a regional education and workforce express tour, being very intentional about visiting and spending time in the 13 counties of our service region to raise the awareness of the college-community connection and share impact data about enrollment, workforce training, and the number of students benefitting from dual enrollment. I learned first-hand that regional economic and workforce growth must be guided by high academic success: i.e., certificate, diploma and associate degree credentials earned, soft skills training, and economic impact data. At many economic development meetings I am often asked about the educational attainment of our college graduates, how many graduates remain or are employed in the region, and the return on investment. Employers are also very concerned about the level of soft skills training the colleges provide. Our intentional partnerships with employers include sharing curriculum and program requirements that cover soft skills and outcomes-based requirements.
As stated earlier, community and technical colleges play pivotal roles in transforming and meeting the changing needs of economic growth. Business and industry leaders often reference the changing demands in their respective fields. In addition, community and technical colleges are adaptable and flexible in meeting the education and training needs of adult students. The adult student population between the ages of 25 and 50 is critical to workforce readiness and economic growth. The demand for adult workers who are skilled, flexible, adaptable and proven successful are the most sought after. This demand can be met through ongoing direct input with local business and industry leaders through community and technical college advisory committees, to ensure we are meeting industry standards and emerging needs.
Apprenticeship programs such as Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) provide employers with an opportunity to have students learn theory in class two days a week and gain paid, related, practical experience working three days a week. I believe this is an example of a powerful model that is a win-win for employers and educators and will more than likely continue to be the trend and path moving forward. An additional area of increasing interest and demand is apprenticeship programs beyond the traditional offerings from unions. In particular, there is a rising and at times contentious debate about apprenticeship training that allows high school students to go directly into the workforce.
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Notes: WKCTC is a four-time Aspen Award top-10 rated institution out of more than 1100 community and technical Colleges. For more information on KY FAME, please click here.