Creating stronger college-industry connections

Spring is right around the corner, and yet I feel like 2014 hasn’t given me a chance to catch my breath!

McREL’s Charleston office, where I work, started off the year with a full plate of program evaluation work to conduct. On top of that, we had our coldest January since 1978 (with about twice as many days out of school than in school for my kindergartener) and a massive chemical spill that made the water essentially unusable for a few weeks—with some areas still seeing the effects more than a month later.

Through all of that, I’ve barely had time to process national and world events like the Olympics. I have, however, made some time to watch and reflect on the President’s State of the Union address, delivered at the end of January.

I enjoy listening to the State of the Union each year to hear what changes might be coming to the national education landscape. What big and exciting new initiatives or competitions might be coming down the pike? What opportunities might they present for evaluation and research to improve education for Americans of all ages?

This year, the main education-related themes I heard in the speech were focused on early childhood education, transparency and affordability in higher education, and improving career training and education though our nation’s community colleges.

As a parent, the first two themes were interesting, as I’m pretty invested in ensuring that my own children have terrific and affordable educational experiences from daycare through college. Professionally, I was most interested in the president’s call for continued innovation and partnership-building in the area of career training:

“So tonight, I’ve asked Vice President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now. That means more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life. It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs. And if Congress wants to help, you can concentrate funding on proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.”

This was particularly exciting for me to hear because I see some of that work being started already. In our program evaluation work, my McREL colleagues and I have worked with community colleges to monitor the progress and assess the outcomes of programs funded through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program. This program is a partnership between the Department of Labor and the Department of Education—funded to the tune of $2 billion over four years—designed to help community colleges improve and expand their two-year career training programs for high-skill, high-wage jobs in a variety of industries. The ultimate goals of the TAACCCT program are to ensure that workers are prepared for good jobs and that employers have access to skilled workers.

Through our work with the colleges implementing TAACCCT-funded programs, we’ve seen earnest attempts by the colleges to involve industry representatives in revising curricula and practices to make sure the training programs are relevant and responsive to current industry needs.

Many community college programs have involved industry partners in various ways throughout the years. However, we’re now seeing a higher level of focus by the colleges to ensure that new courses, programs, equipment purchases, and so on will meet current and future needs of employers, workers, and industries. Colleges are routinely engaging industry partners in advisory boards and curriculum committees, to ensure that their perspectives are considered in decisions about the training programs. This should pay nice dividends for both the students and their future employers.

We look forward to continuing our work with community colleges across the country, and my colleagues and I are nearly as anxious as they are to see the outcomes of the TAACCCT programs.

For analysis of the education content of the 2014 State of the Union address, I recommend Education Week’s summary and the Politics K-12 blog.

 

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Georgia Hughes-Webb, a research and evaluation specialist with McREL’s Charleston office, conducts a variety of program evaluations for community colleges and other institutions of higher education. 

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