Why President Obama Wants Community Colleges to Act More Like For-Profit Colleges

During the recent three-day American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) 94th Annual Convention, Wonderlic representatives had the opportunity to speak with leaders from institutions across the nation. This year’s convention was filled with Community College leaders profoundly excited about the White House’s attention and commitment to their sector. Embodying this sentiment, Vice President Joe Biden announced $600 million in grants and federal funding to support job-driven training during his speech at the convention.

Even before Biden announced the funding, almost every conversation in which we took part touched on student job placement. From engaging employers to addressing the skills gap, conferees were abuzz about the challenges that educators and students face in today’s shifting job market.

The White House is sending two clear messages with the recent spotlight on Community Colleges and workforce training grants:

They are playing favorites. This administration has not been shy about its preference for public, non-profit education. From gainful employment regulation to grants that omit for-profit institutions, the Department of Education believes that non-profit (and especially public) institutions are the best source of 2-year education and workforce training.

The White House knows that Career Colleges, with their singular focus on workforce training, are doing many things better than Community Colleges. Community Colleges, Junior Colleges, and Technical Colleges have suffered from an identity crisis for several decades. These colleges constantly struggle to define the primary focus of their institutions - they debate whether to focus on preparing students for transfer to a 4-year institution or to enter the workforce. Meanwhile, Career Colleges, despite ongoing bad press and poor public perception, have maintained one clear objective for over 4,000,000 students – get them a job. This focus has led to innovative practices to help students land jobs after graduation.

One specific component the White House likes about the Career College model has been employer engagement. Working with employers to develop curriculum and connect students during and after training has significantly improved job placement. The White House has recognized the importance of this innovation and is charging Community Colleges to develop similar employer engagement tactics to improve student outcomes.

What does this mean for Community Colleges?

The President’s grant awards have supplied the impetus for change. While cash isn’t an automatic fix, it does provide a great incentive for innovation. Seek input from your instructors, other institutions (yes, even Career Colleges), your students, and, especially, employers. Take a note from Career Colleges (or even your Continuing Education Department) and your institution can transform workforce training on a large scale with public funding.

What does this mean for Career Colleges?

It’s no secret that the current administration has little love for this industry. But, you’ve got some major advantages:

  • You’re the experts on getting students on the path to the workforce.
  • You’ve got the flexibility to innovate and drive workforce training quickly.

Employers across the nation are begging for someone to help fill the skills gap. This is not the time to sit back and complain about legislation that handicaps your institution. Rather, it’s the time to uncover improved ways to train and instruct the students that walk through your doors.

The members of this industry who will thrive are those best able to provide both the highest quality instruction and demonstrate transparency and evidence of student achievement. You may even start to make some friends in the Department of Education!

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