Combined forces: Fulfilling the ‘community’ in community colleges
Community Colleges

Combined forces: Fulfilling the ‘community’ in community colleges

Two people working in a warehouse.

Building partnerships for student and worker success

This is the first of four blogs highlighting partnerships between community colleges and city and business resources and breaking down the important work in relationship-building that helps support students and workers of color through the college and career pipeline.

The advantage of a community college lives right in the name: It’s affordable, accessible education in a student’s home community.

Yet, declining college enrollment shows students—particularly those of color—need more than their school’s resources to succeed. Intentional partnerships between community colleges and employers, non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, and workforce boards can provide a wide range of support for students and workers. By capitalizing on each’s strengths, these institutions could create a streamlined pathway from education to career—one neither could deliver on its own.

A common goal

The Century Foundation and Urban Manufacturing Alliance have come together to advance racial equity in the manufacturing industry through their new Industry and Inclusion Cohort, which focuses on community partnerships working toward a shared goal.

Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio, saw this when it partnered with local organizations to tackle the high number of unfilled jobs in the manufacturing industry, fewer students with credentials in manufacturing, and fewer people of color and women in these careers that provide a livable wage. By working with MAGNET: Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, local faith-based organizations, and non-profits, and empowering adults in the region to earn credentials that will set them up for one of the many open and high-paying positions in manufacturing. This partnership allowed partners to be creative allies as Tanu Kumar, workforce development specialist at Urban Manufacturing Alliance describes them. “(The allies) can bring awareness to manufacturing,” she adds. This partnership includes many organizations that often work in silos to learn and benefit from one another through their shared goal.

“There needs to be equity of voice of all partners,” Kumar said. “And it’s needed for people to see different vantage points.”

The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives Foundation (ACCEF) created a model designed to bring together local chambers of commerce, community colleges, and nonprofits to work together and reduce barriers to not only college, but career opportunities. They selected seven communities to participate in the Equitable Credential Attainment Cohort program.

“Partnerships are often tackling multiple issues at once,” says Amy Shields, ACCE Foundation executive director.

Shields pointed to the Greater Cleveland community, one of the seven communities, which partnered with the Greater Cleveland Partnership Chamber, Cuyahoga Community College, and the Urban League of Greater Cleveland to tackle multiple issues and address inequitable outcomes together for their students and workers of color.

“[These] three partnering entities have a shared commitment to the advancement of people of color, both youth and adults,” Shields adds.

She encourages community colleges to reach out to local chambers of commerce for greater access to more employers who likely will have shared goals toward which they can work together.

The common goal piece is so important because those common goals translate to passion, and that passion translates into commitment.

The Foundation for California Community Colleges (FoundationCCC) is also embarking on an initiative to attract more workers of color to construction careers and give students a more streamlined process to earn college credits for profitable jobs in the construction industry. FoundationCCC selected three communities in the state to receive High Road Recovery grants to work with the California Workforce Development Board and the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency to create a streamlined path to construction careers. With a common goal to help accelerate student pathways to construction careers, these groups also recognized some students needed more development in math and many weren’t native English speakers. Through this partnership, the students will receive a curriculum in math and English directed toward construction, while at the same time learning important skills in the sector to obtain employment.

“The common goal piece is so important because those common goals translate to passion, and that passion translates into commitment,” said Joshua Modlin, director of earn and learn at FoundationCCC. That commitment can lead to sustainable systems.

“Recognize how hard and long this work takes,” Modlin said. “Short-term thinking needs to stop. Build the system incrementally, where it develops over time.”

Finding shared objectives between stakeholders might seem impossible at first. Community colleges want to boost enrollment. Employers need skilled applicant pools. Non-profits aim to place resources toward the best benefit. But the common denominator here? Empowering and supporting people.

It’s clear that the “community” in community colleges is an extensive network of often many kinds of partners. However, if there is not an intentional agreement among the partners to work together on a common goal, the problem may seem insurmountable.

In the next blog, we’ll look at the role each partner can play in these important relationships and how both students and workers can benefit.

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