Community Colleges – Road to Building Skills for the 21st Century

Innovation in the 21st century has reshaped the world of work and civil society.  Innovation has redefined the knowledge and skills necessary to support emerging sectors of the economy.  Raising the overall level of educational attainment for all of our citizens is critical and addressing the skills gap in key industries is essential.

Community colleges are uniquely positioned to design their curricula to match local labor market conditions, making them flexible and relevant to today’s economy and job market. They are open access institutions committed to providing job-relevant educational opportunities to a broad population of students in their local communities. And their graduates are finding that they are able to participate in a knowledge-based economy, which demands a far greater level of credentialing and skills development than ever before.

The challenge, then, for the United States and India is to think of ways we can promote more opportunities for our diverse and dynamic populations to access these and other educational opportunities. When we do that, we can begin to provide 21st century job-skills linked to the global economy and responsive to local community needs.

President Obama is looking to community colleges to play a key role in increasing the number of U.S. college graduates and helping more Americans get the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in an increasingly interconnected global world.  In the United States, these institutions enroll more students than any other higher education sector, and almost half of all U.S. undergraduate students attend one of nearly 1,100 community colleges across the country.

Many of those colleges work closely with local employer partners to design course materials that lead to industry-recognized certificates and degrees.  And they are leading the way in preparing graduates for the fastest growing fields in the United States, such as healthcare, applied engineering, and green technologies.

India is faced with the similar challenge of educating its population for rapidly emerging fields, such as automotive and healthcare technologies, and is exploring best practices in the community college model to help prepare Indians for these new jobs.  It is taking steps to enable the development of a national network of community colleges in order to meet workforce demands and sustain its impressive economic growth and social prosperity as a nation.

In February, the U.S. was honored to participate in the International Community College Conference hosted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, which focused on creating a network of 200 community colleges with strong ties to industry in order to equip more people with the skills and knowledge to drive India’s future.  Under Minister Pallam Raju’s leadership, the government has established the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA) to coordinate and streamline the skill development efforts of the government and the private sector to achieve the nation’s skilling targets.

There are many successful models in the U.S. to consider. Many community college-industry partnerships begin with a workforce need expressed by an individual employer. Other partnerships begin with a community college that recognizes a regional economic sector challenge and calls upon businesses to help it meet the challenge.

In Washington, Spokane Community College is working with the Boeing Company and other local aerospace companies to improve aerospace workforce training in the entire state.  And in Maryland, GlaxoSmithKline provides scholarships to encourage students at Montgomery Community College to pursue careers in the bio-manufacturing field. These companies partner with community colleges to invest in students with the kind of expertise they need – and the students are presented with real and specific career paths.

To further these kinds of partnerships, the Obama Administration has made a historic investment in community colleges through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program.  This program, administered jointly by the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor, provides U.S. community colleges with additional resources to build and expand short-term career training programs, in partnership with employers, to prepare students for employment in high-wage, high-skill occupations.

The United States and India are both looking closely at emerging industries as target sectors in which to train our youth or provide new skills for professionals so that they can advance their lives and seek secure futures for themselves and their families.  During Minister Pallam Raju’s recent visit to Washington, we reiterated our joint commitment to deliver high quality, cost-effective instruction for students to access knowledge.  Few missions could be more important or timely.

The upcoming U.S.-India Higher Education Dialogue will provide another opportunity for our two countries to deepen our partnerships and consider ways to advance the prosperity of our nations, individually and collectively.  Offering opportunities for affordable higher education that prepare students for the modern workforce is an ambitious, achievable goal.  We look forward to continued cooperation with India and we applaud India’s commitment to develop a system of community colleges

Tara D. Sonenshine is the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Martha Kanter is the U.S. Under Secretary of Education 

5 Comments

  1. Community colleges are great places for students to get an affordable education. Students can graduate from a degree or certificate program from a community college, have little to no debt, be job ready or poised to transfer to a 4 year college. They are also great places for adults already in the workforce to explore career transitions or to build credentials. They should be considered a community resource for life-long learning.

  2. Community colleges are great places for students to get an affordable education. Students can graduate from a degree or certificate program from a community college, have little to no deb, be job ready or poised to transfer to a 4 year college. They are also great places for adults already in the workforce to explore career transitions or to build credentials. They should be considered a community resource for life-long learning.

  3. Community colleges won’t build “skills for the 21st century” until they ditch the notion that only people with Master’s Degrees are worthy of teaching in a college. Often, the best teachers and most experienced contractors and consultants lack Master’s Degrees. They need to be inside the classrooms too.

    • I agree. Teachers come from all walks of life. Some of the things I have learned have been taught from a person that has years of experience, but no degree.

    • Some of the worst teachers I have ever had were PhD credentialed. I also have to admit that some of the best teachers I ever had were PhD, but by and large our high school (which is really the lowest level I can recall with confidence) teachers are excellent. Certainly a bachelors degree should be a requirement, but too many graduate level professors cannot explain anything real or practical.

      I have had more than one graduate level professor, when asked to explain something, simply repeat the mathematical formula again.

      NO freshman level professor (and perhaps even sophomore level) should ever teach a college class unless they have had several classes in pedagogy. In fact, I think they should spend a few years teaching high school before they get to teach in college.

      Oh, you think you can teach? Prove it.

      I also thing that at least 5 years of industry experience should be a requirement for teachers in many of our technical classes, including engineering, CS, or anything with Technology in the degree name.

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