UA Center’s Report Shows Gaps in Workforce Development Capacity at Nation’s Community Colleges
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even as community colleges are increasingly seen as critical resources for training workers in the post-recession economy, the schools’ leaders see mounting challenges to their efforts to prepare students for high-skill, high-wage jobs as funding sources for training programs dry up, according to a new report.
“Workforce Training in a Recovering Economy,” released by the Education Policy Center at The University of Alabama, details the perceptions of state officials across the nation who are responsible for coordination and supervision of community colleges.
The report can be viewed at http://uaedpolicy.weebly.com/.
Respondents reported expectations from business leaders, policymakers and the public that community colleges train workers – while also reporting that training funds from federal sources like the Workforce Investment Act and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have been exhausted. High unemployment has also strained the capacity of the schools, as more people seek new training, they said.
“As the nation emerges from the recession, how can community colleges reach out, in both the short- and long-term, to develop the workforce when their own capacity is itself threatened?” ask the report’s authors, Drs. Stephen Katsinas, Mark M. D’Amico, and Janice N. Friedel.
Katsinas is director of The University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center within UA’s College of Education, D’Amico is a faculty member at the College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Friedel is on the faculty at Iowa State University.
Community colleges emerged as a vital player in workforce training in the early 1980s. And attention to this role has increased in recent years, the report points out. Forty-five of 49 responding state community college directors said business leaders see the schools as primary workforce training providers – up from 34 respondents in a survey conducted last year.
“The data are abundantly clear: high-wage jobs require education beyond high school,” the report says.
In practice, however, community colleges are often not recognized in statewide plans or federal policy regarding important Workforce Investment Act funding allocations, according to the report.
“Our findings reveal that state community college leaders believe high unemployment has strained the available workforce training capacity at community colleges in many states, as budget woes limit the development and maintenance of programs to prepare individuals for high-wage, high-skill jobs.”
The Great Recession brought high unemployment – and also higher enrollments at U.S. community colleges. Between July 2007 and July 2009, unemployment doubled in 24 states and nearly doubled in 11 others. The high unemployment and growing enrollments coincided with an end to federal stimulus funding and a slow recovery in state tax revenues for college operating budgets, the report states.
And even at the height of the recession, jobs were going unfilled because of a lack of trained workers. The National Association of Manufacturers reported in 2010, for example, that 32 percent of U.S. manufacturers said they had vacancies because they could not find workers with the right skills – and the future demand for skilled workers in manufacturing will likely grow significantly in the years ahead, as the 2.7 million current manufacturing workers who are over 55 retire.
Across the economy as a whole, 60 percent of all jobs will require postsecondary education, according to projections by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
To fill these gaps, “business leaders and state officials often look to community colleges in developing the workforce,” the report notes. Respondents from 30 states said they are now facing pressures to offer or expand “quick” job-training programs in non-credit areas.
Yet, the Center found that “the most costly programs to operate at most community colleges are typically those that are most technology-rich,” which, in turn, are often those most closely fitting employers’ needs. And these courses are tough to provide for reasons beyond simply cost; “31 of the 2012 respondents say that a significant shortage of faculty in high-cost technical areas exists in their states (compared to only nine who say not),” the report notes.
So, despite the demand for graduates with technical skills, most respondents said that “enrollment growth at their state’s community colleges has been greater in lower-cost transfer programs than in higher-cost, career-focused, for-credit programs.”
Community colleges are known for finding ways to persist despite increasing enrollments and decreasing budgets, the authors state. Yet they question how much longer this situation can be sustained.
“If community colleges are to assist workers to achieve economic competitiveness and help the nation to economic recovery, the capacity strains described in this report cannot remain unaddressed,” they conclude. “With exhausted training funds and continuing state budget cuts, the ability of community colleges to serve workers in need of retraining, and to build the workforce of the future, is, without doubt, constrained.”
The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.
CONTACT: Stephen G. Katsinas, director, UA Education Policy Center, 205/348-2470 , firstname.lastname@example.org; David Miller, media relations, 205/348-0825, email@example.com
SOURCE: Stephen G. Katsinas, director, UA Education Policy Center, 205/348-2470 , firstname.lastname@example.org