Where Community Colleges and Workforce Development Meet

CLASP Featured in New Volume on Sector Strategies by the Aspen Institute

By Marcie Foster and Evelyn Ganzglass

This week, the Aspen Institute and the Annie E. Casey Foundation will release a new book on the evolution of sector strategies in the last decade as a strategy to improve the employment prospects and self-sufficiency of low-income workers. Sector strategies target regional economic sectors and align workforce development policies and programs with the skill needs of employers in the chosen sectors. It is a complementary approach to career pathways, an increasingly popular approach to connecting progressive levels of basic skills and postsecondary education, training, and supportive services in specific sectors or across sectors. CLASP experts Evelyn Ganzglass, Marcie Foster, and Abigail Newcomer contributed a chapter to the volume, which focuses on the role of community colleges in the sector strategies and career pathways movement.

In the last 10 years, community colleges have been at the center of innovations designed to improve the skills of our nation’s workforce while also meeting critical regional skill demands. Flexible and—in most regions—accessible, community colleges have partnered with workforce development, adult education, and human services systems to provide labor market-relevant workforce education to low-income, underprepared students (particularly non-traditional students). In the chapter, CLASP authors highlight recent community college innovations targeted at improving education and employment prospects for these students, such as:

  • Developing and implementing  sector-based career pathways  to connect individuals at all skill levels with marketable postsecondary credentials and good jobs;
  • Connecting industry and educational credentials and non-credit learning to credit-bearing education; and
  • Exploring ways to connect low-income students with the comprehensive financial supports they need to successfully complete a certificate or degree.

The chapter draws on the experience and successes of states and colleges who have participated in a number of system reform initiatives with CLASP, including the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways, Shifting Gears, and Benefits Access for College Completion. However, as noted, much work must still be done to scale promising initiatives and strengthen the ability of community colleges to provide low-income, underprepared students with an affordable and labor market-relevant education. This will require sustained investment from private sector leadership, state and federal governments, and institutions themselves. Furthermore, more work needs to be done to build a strong base of evidence about what works for serving vulnerable students, including low-skilled immigrants and first-generation college students.

Published by the American Assembly at Columbia University, Connecting People to Work also includes chapters by prominent nonprofit leaders, foundation officials, and researchers. It documents how the philanthropic community, the public and private sectors, and the workforce development and higher education fields can contribute to and utilize sector strategies to strengthen our workforce system and economy. On June 12, the Aspen Institute will host a book release event Washington, D.C. on Connecting People to Work, featuring selected contributors.