Community College Network Aims to Boost Value for Students

The Aspen Institute and Community College Research Center announced 10 community colleges as part of the new Post-Graduation Success and Equity Network.
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  • The Aspen Institute and Columbia University's Community College Research Center launched a network to boost community colleges' credential value.
  • The "Unlocking Opportunity: The Post-Graduation Success and Equity Network" includes 10 community colleges and will run through 2028.
  • Colleges will evaluate their programs and look to boost post-graduation outcomes for students.

As employers increasingly look to higher education to train workers in high-demand fields, a new national network will focus on increasing "credentials of value" at a small cadre of community colleges.

The initiative — dubbed "Unlocking Opportunity: The Post-Graduation Success and Equity Network" — is spearheaded by the Aspen Institute and the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's teacher college, according to a press release.

The wide-reaching network brings together 10 community colleges from across the country:

  • Alamo Colleges District in Texas, with San Antonio College serving as the pilot college for the district
  • Laramie County Community College in Wyoming
  • Lorain County Community College in Ohio
  • Monroe Community College in New York
  • Odessa College in Texas
  • Sinclair College in Ohio
  • Southwest Wisconsin Technical College in Wisconsin
  • St. Petersburg College in Florida
  • Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma
  • Valencia College in Florida

"We're excited to work with these colleges to help them evaluate and strengthen their programs and see which lead to great outcomes: either good jobs right away or via completion of a bachelor's degree," Davis Jenkins, a senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center, said in the release.

The network will also include San Jacinto College in Texas as a "resource college." The program will run from 2023-2028, with colleges implementing reforms with support from coaches and training during its first three years. The program's final three years will feature continued research by the Aspen Institute and Community College Research Center and will also include publicly accessible tools, reports, and case studies based on the colleges' findings.

Josh Wyner, founder and executive director of the Aspen Institute's College Excellence Program, noted in the release that community colleges have long focused on improving graduation rates — and said progress has been "steady and impressive."

But Wyner said community colleges need to focus on improving credential values to combat enrollment drops.

"... it is time for community colleges to turn their attention to increasing the value of the credentials they deliver, especially for the large numbers of Black, Hispanic, and low-income students who rely so heavily on community colleges to provide a path to a better life," Wyner said. "The colleges selected for this network have shown that they can make scaled and systemic change — and they are ready to work together on this critical goal."

Alamo Colleges District Chancellor Mike Flores said in a release that the program will help the district advance toward its goal "of thousands more students entering and completing programs that lead to high-wage, high-demand fields."

Lorain County Community College President Marcia J. Ballinger said the network will allow the Ohio school to "continue to enhance students' career outcomes that provide family-sustaining wages."

Major employers in high-demand fields have looked to community colleges to train workers amid a nationwide skills gap in recent years. In Ohio, for example, tech giant Intel Corp. is investing $20 billion in two semiconductor plants in the central part of the state — and the majority of the 12,000 new jobs those plants will bring will be available to workers with an associate degree.

Ohio Association of Community Colleges President and CEO Jack Hershey previously told BestColleges that, while daunting for the state's community colleges, the schools are working with Intel to develop new curriculum and will serve a vital role in training workers for the lucrative jobs at the plant.

"The path to working at Intel, at some point, is going to take you through a community college in Ohio," Hershey said. "That's exciting for us, and, quite honestly, it's a huge challenge. We wouldn't meet that challenge unless Intel was working so closely with us."

Community colleges often serve as anchor institutions in their communities, able to respond quickly to local workforce needs while also being key access points for higher education. Major tech companies including Microsoft, IBM, and Google have partnered with community colleges to address the nationwide skills gap in high-demand fields like cybersecurity in recent years, BestColleges previously reported.