Can Community Colleges Help Fill the Qualified Worker Gap?

By 2020, there will be a shortage of roughly 5 million workers who will need a degree or credential to qualify for a job in the modern economy.

by / February 7, 2018 0
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Facing advances in the technology surrounding drones and driverless vehicles, the Teamsters Union confronted the future of transportation in its first round of contract negotiations with shipping giant United Parcel Service (UPS). Currently engaged with UPS in one of the largest collective bargaining agreements in America — set to expire in July — the labor union called for the complete prohibition of the use of drones and driverless vehicles in the delivery of packages.
 
Clearly, the union feels that it is fighting for the livelihood of over a quarter-million UPS employees, but progress in the form of technology has historically proven to be a force that, once set in motion, is virtually impossible to stop. So, would this union better serve its constituency by teaching it to surf? What are the options for displaced employees who decide that it is far better to adapt to change than to fight it? And what are our colleges doing to prepare Americans for life in the 21st century?
 
A study conducted by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found that, by the year 2020, approximately 65 percent of all jobs will require some form of degree or credential. However, at the current rate at which the nation’s colleges and universities are awarding diplomas, there will be a shortage of roughly 5 million qualified employees. Business and industry are relying on our institutions of higher learning in increasing numbers to make up for the looming workforce gap, and community colleges in particular are making an admirable effort to rise to the challenge.
 
Offering affordability and open access, community colleges across the country have traditionally drawn their enrollment from a wide cross-section of the population. Students are seeking post-secondary credentials to add to their resumés for the most common purposes of either transferring to a four-year university or receiving job training in any one of a number of vocational pursuits. With the benefit of affordability, community colleges have logically appealed to students who have been characterized as low-income, minority or working adults.
 
Studies have shown that students who have completed a credential or degree from a community college are much more likely to earn a higher income than those who have no college courses, some college courses, or who have not received a credential or degree from a community college. Occupationally-focused programs are currently the fastest-growing post-secondary credential in America, with a higher growth rate than associates degrees and master’s degrees. Approximately 1 million such certificates are awarded annually, 90 percent of which are awarded by either community colleges or private for-profit vocational schools.
 
Certificate holders earn an average of 20 percent more in salary over the course of their lifetime than those whose education is limited to high school graduation. That difference is up to $200,000 or more. Some studies have found that the first-year earning potential of certificate holders in certain fields of study can be comparable to, or better than, college graduates holding bachelor’s degrees. Data regarding earning potential reveals that technical and career-oriented programs generally yield higher earning potential than associates degrees in social sciences and liberal arts.
 
The nearly 1,500 community colleges in America are well-positioned to play a critical role in preparing a viable workforce for a modern competitive economy. To do this efficiently, it is imperative that these institutions continue to focus not only on attracting and serving the “traditional student” — recent high school graduates enrolled with the intentions of transferring to a four-year college or university — but also on those students who are returning to college after having already spent some time in the nation’s labor force.
 
Many of the students in that latter group will be attending on a part-time basis, and their increasing presence will have a significant effect on efforts to study and improve operations, and will be factored into policy decisions on these campuses. Some changes will be in order, many of which will be the responsibility of the individual states, but the federal government can, and must, play a crucial role.
Jeff Dominguez Content Manager

In addition to serving as Content Manager at the Center for Digital Education, Jeff Dominguez is the father of broadcast journalist/producer, Ruben Dominguez, and soccer phenom, Gabriella Dominguez.