I think I’m really seeing the news more and more through the eyes of Thomas Friedman of the NYT.
A recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay titled, “Apprenticeships Make a Comeback in the United States” led me to several other stories that day in the CHE. And then I saw this piece in the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/07/maricopa-community-colleges-apprenticeship_n_1753633.html about an Arizona community college adapting/adopting the apprenticeship model…The Arizona Tooling and Machining Association is collaborating with Maricopa Community Colleges system. The trade group and the colleges have designed a partnership whereby companies would fork over $1 per worker per hour to the colleges to run a training program. Along with a one-year grant from the Department of Labor, the colleges would screen high school graduates for the program and match them with employers.
Another story described the collaborative partnership between Tri-County Technical College, and two other two-year institutions in South Carolina, and BMW’s “scholars program:” http://www.bmwusfactory.com/careers/a-bmw-career/bmw-scholars/
Credit the Obama administration – and Jill Biden- with renewing attention in its first four years to the longstanding role of community colleges as both a gateway to a BA degree, and to jobs found in the surrounding communitiy.
When I read these stories, I also see comments written, usually, by educators at four-year institutions who fret about the “vocationalization” of the academic degree and who go on to argue that while such workforce-ready tracks may be right for two-year students, they are hardly in sync with the mission of the liberal arts college . Sure that’s true –but this is not at all about the dumbing-down of the four-year degree. It is about recognizing the need for these educational institutions to not keep their heads buried in the sand; rather, if the economic crisis of these past four years has told us anything, it is that no institution or teacher should remain aloof from the workforce realities facing students from every strata of our society. It just so happens that community colleges enroll most minority students attending college in the U.S. and that in any state and community you look at, these students have a higher unemployment rate than their white college peers.
So yes, there is an obvious economic imperative which community colleges must face in educating their students. But there is a growing recognition that four-year colleges need to face up to the same economic challenges in today’s economy. They may have a more diverse toolkit to dip into, however, their students deserve and are looking for the same assistance on the pathway to employment as other students. Rising tuition costs, reduced family incomes, and questions about how long it will take for graduates to find work after graduation – combine to create a perfect storm challenging educators to address the same questions facing their peers at two-year college students. We’re all in the same boat.