How can community colleges prepare students for the middle class?

Posted by Ronald | April 11, 2014  |  No Comment

The best strategy for gaining employment is having a specific skill-set that matches the needs of the economy. Considering the nation’s need for highly skilled workers, the critical question to be asked is: How can community colleges prepare students for the middle class?

During the American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) 94th Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., Vice President Joe Biden praised and commended community college constituents for providing students access to college, remediating their deficiencies and mentoring them in various ways. This feature provides an excerpt of Biden’s speech who was accompanied by his wife and the second lady, Dr. Jill Biden, a professor at Northern Virginia Community College.

With nearly 1200 community colleges, more than 13 million Americans were educated in these institutions in 2013. People of all ages and types are finding that community colleges provide the pathway to jobs and, subsequently, to the middle class. When people graduate from community colleges, they earn 26 percent more than high school graduates. However, we are not preparing enough people for the jobs available today and the jobs for the future, and we need the continued support of community colleges’ dynamic leaders to help us address this concern. In the next decade, six out of 10 jobs will require a certificate or degree beyond high school to fill these positions. In industries such as information technology, manufacturing, health care and energy, there will be hundreds of thousands job openings.

Currently, there are 100,000 manufacturing jobs unfilled due to a lack of skilled workforce. In 2020, the projected number of jobs to be filled is 875,000. Corporations such as high-tech operations are coming back to the U.S. because of lower transportation costs, better security of property, cheaper energy and more productive workers. Based on statistics from the Boston Consulting Group, 54 percent of companies that invested in China have already decided to return to the U.S. in 2014 compared to 37 percent in 2013. For high-tech jobs such as information technology (IT), we project 1.4 jobs are needed to be filled by 2020. The highest paying jobs are those of software developers who make more than $80,000 annually. Other jobs such as IT specialists make $60,000 with a minimum of a two-year degree at community colleges.

When we look at the future of the medical field, we project a 19 percent increase of registered nurses in this decade, as well as thousands of psychiatric nurses who can earn higher wages through additional training.  We project a 26 percent increase in medical assistant jobs that pay $30,000; 33 percent increase in dental hygienist that pay $70,000 and 39 percent increase in medical technician such as sonographer and cardiovascular technicians that pay $60,000. For a two-income household, these are jobs that can place families in the lifestyle of the middle class, and provide them the opportunity to own their home and other benefits of this class. As the middle class does well, the wealthy does very well and the poor has a way to move upwardly. The U.S. is a great country in reclaiming the middle class, and community colleges serve as an incredible resource to make this happen.

As assigned by President Barrack Obama in his State of the Union address, it is my role to identify jobs through the business sector and connect those jobs available in the future to the skills required to occupy the jobs. We must prepare a skilled workforce to lead the world in a global and competitive economy. Under your outstanding leadership, our community colleges provide the nucleus for people to gain the necessary skills for the new millennium.

We can accomplish this by supporting apprenticeships and forming partnerships with local businesses. Through apprenticeships, seventy-eight percent of the participants complete the program, gain a permanent job and remain with the companies at least a year after the program. Apprenticeships are the strongest form of job training where people are paid to learn on the job. In South Carolina, for example, the state offers a $1,000 dollar tax credit to companies that participate in the apprenticeship program. The state increased its apprenticeship program from 700 in 2007 to nearly 10,000 in 2014.

We have to replicate apprenticeship programs that are working in industries such as manufacturing and construction. There are programs where people earn nearly $70,000 dollars annually and the possibility to earn $100,000 when they work overtime. With the support of community colleges, we have to create programs in areas such as energy, health care and information technology. In doing so, we are launching a Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium under the U.S. Department of Education and Labor.

The consortium will make it easier for apprentice to gain college credits while gaining rigorous training towards a degree. The consortium will allow people to attend college, gain work and earn a wage at the same time. In an electrician apprentice, for example, individuals can earn a maximum of 60 credits and save thousands of dollars at any college affiliated with the consortium. While membership includes AACC, a number of community colleges, businesses and labor unions, we encourage all community colleges to participate in the consortium.

As a testimony to the past support of community colleges, seventy-five percent of these institutions took advantage of federal funds appropriated at two million to build partnerships with local businesses, improve training programs and help displaced workers find employment. We plan to offer an additional 400 million to community colleges to build partnerships with local businesses and national industry groups to replicate successful programs across the nation.

As extraordinary leaders of community colleges, “a lot of people don’t know how good you are. They don’t know just how much you can do. I ask you to think of this rhetorical question. If not you, if not the community college, what vehicle do we have to train our workforce for the future? What vehicles are available to us? You are that vehicle.” This is the reason we proposed another six billion dollars for job training: two and four billion respectively for apprenticeship programs and rigorous training by community colleges. “You are the single best hope we have to rebuild the middle class” and diminish the country’s skill gap. As we visit your campuses, please continue to be ready for the challenge. The economy is rapidly changing, and we have to adapt along with it.

 Dr. Ronald Holmes is the author of five books, “Education Questions to be Answered,”  “Current Issues and Answers in Education,”  “How to Eradicate Hazing,” “Professional Career Paths” and “Your Answers to Education Questions.” He is publisher of “The Holmes Education Post,” an education focused Internet newspaper.  Holmes is a former teacher, school administrator and district superintendent. He can be reached at rwh@theholmeseducationpost.com

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