By Louis Soares | October 4, 2010
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Washington, D.C.–Business and postsecondary education have found common cause in recent decades in the preparation of a highly skilled workforce to preserve the nation’s competitiveness and economic opportunity in response to rapid technological change and increasing global competition. The Obama administration has recognized this economic imperative and set aggressive goals for postsecondary attainment in the United States and emphasized the unique role that community colleges can in play achieving them.
Community colleges’ scale and adaptability make them a strong choice as a driver of postsecondary education. Community colleges are the institutions that stand closest to the crossroads of higher education and the real world, where Americans need to apply a mix of technical knowledge, business acumen, and creativity to add value in firms whose imperative is to compete on innovation. This complex talent mix requires knowledge and skills gleaned from both academic education and vocational training.
The only way to develop curriculum and instruction models that deliver this skill set to large numbers of Americans is for business and education leaders to build collaborations that leverage their combined knowledge of labor markets, skills, pedagogy, and students. This integration of vocation and employment-oriented goals in academic educational programs has been termed the “new vocationalism” movement. New vocationalism seeks to create a more well-rounded education that satisfies both the demand for skilled employees and the need for a knowledgeable and engaged citizenry by integrating the three historic missions of community colleges: university transfer education, vocational education, and developmental education.
One of new vocationalism’s central tenets is the need for institutional innovations to identify new models of community college education as a way to better prepare individuals for high-wage, high-skill jobs. Partnerships between community colleges and businesses are one such institutional innovation.
The purpose of these partnerships is most often to enhance the community colleges’ historic mission of providing alternate pathways to postsecondary credentials that have labor market value for individuals who are not on a traditional college track. This may include youth and adults with low-literacy levels, dislocated workers, and English-language learners. Strong partnerships tend to develop around local and regional economic and workforce development needs and can take many different forms from joint-investment in facilities to industrial-sector partnerships. Businesses, colleges, unions, public agencies, and community-based organizations come together in these partnerships to find solutions to jointly identified educational challenges and use combined resources to implement them.
Existing collaborations include many promising “good practices” for helping the populations they target obtain a postsecondary credential including: systemic institutional alignment and improvement, curricular and instructional transformation, academic and social support; professional development, and shared resources and sustainability. Yet we need further research and analysis to understand and establish best practices that can bring these programs to scale.
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