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Creating partnerships between community colleges and local business

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 69 percent of community college students work while in college (NPSAS 2011-2012). More than a third work 35 hours or more each week. Yet, unlike the quarter of students who receive Federal Work Study aid at private four-year institutions, only 2 percent of community college students receive FWS. Unfortunately, working students are almost twice as likely to drop out of school.

Community college students work because they are often supporting themselves and other dependents. Once considered anomalies, now 51 percent of all U.S. college students are independent (IWPR). The majority of these students attend community colleges, and their financial situation is often dire, with one in three having family incomes near or below the poverty line (CCRC). Choosing to enroll full-time is not an option.

These nontraditional students are often in school because they want stable careers and, with new degrees, they will make a critical contribution to the American economy. Yet, community colleges themselves are struggling. Budget cuts and dropping enrollments make it harder to hire qualified instructors, maintain classroom facilities, and fund daily operations.

Collaborating with local businesses to help working students

Partnerships with local businesses can provide working students real career opportunities and give community colleges a much-needed break. Businesses that offer tuition assistance and on-site learn/work opportunities improve students’ chances of completing a degree. Businesses can also often contribute on-site classroom space, provide experienced instructors, design curriculum, and help with recruiting initiatives.

In return the employer gets a highly-skilled worker, which amply repays their initial investment. Especially during the current labor shortage, many businesses see worker training as a necessary expense, and one that pays dividends in a competent, loyal workforce. It’s a welcome boost for schools struggling to allocate scarce resources, but what does it take to forge a successful partnership with industry leaders?

Finding industry partners with a similar vision

If no businesses have approached your community college already, your school can approach local businesses. The Aspen Institute encourages businesses not to be afraid to make the first call. It’s easiest if the school already has an alumni at the business, or some other connection like a member on the board. If your school doesn’t have a connection, be judicious about whether you should contact the executive, or whether it’s more appropriate to reach out to HR.

Elizabeth Mann from the Brown Center for Education Policy recommends community colleges form a corporate round table and invite local business leaders in their community to participate. She cites Ivy Tech’s successful use of this strategy, which creates a forum for collaboration between the college administration and industry leaders. When the right people are in the room, great things can happen.

Communication is everything

Perhaps your community college would like to develop partnerships with local businesses, but you’re unsure of the first steps to take. In an interview with the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), one community college director, Charles Young, shared that the key is communication. It’s important that everyone communicates their expectations, he explains, because “Businesses are mobile and fast-acting while education is often slow-moving and conservative.”

Young believes that the lesson for is that forming successful partnerships requires constant and clear communication. It’s important to agree on specific goals ahead of time and take feedback so that the partnerships can grow. And, in the event that the relationship is no longer productive for one or both parties, it’s important to have a clear exit-strategy in place.

Embracing multiple models of collaboration

One thing you will likely learn while dialoguing with industry leaders is the actual state of the labor market in your local area. Adding industry knowledge to statistics and market projections means that you can develop programs to fill existing vacancies. The best way to do that will vary. Not every business requires the same kind of workforce development so you will have to create programs to meet diverse requirements.

Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina knows that every business has different needs. They’ve developed multiple ways to deliver the kind of training that businesses want, including a Co-Op program, an apprenticeship program and a variety of internships. Each serves a different need in the greater Charlotte area, but all establish CPCC as a valuable industry partner.

Creating the workforce of the future

Experts predict that by 2020 sixty-five percent of all jobs will require education or training beyond a high school diploma. Whether the American workforce will be prepared to meet those demands will depend a great deal on community colleges. Educators and industry leaders are working together to design innovative solutions to ensure the future is bright.

If you want some help letting local businesses know about all the great programs your school has to offer, check out our services. Aperture Content Marketing knows how to communicate what your school does for your community. It’s time to bring what makes your school unique into focus.