Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy, California State University Sacramento
The national college completion agenda is in full swing but the role of community colleges in that agenda is underappreciated. With a large share of projected job openings requiring college education of less than a bachelor's degree and offering family-supporting wages, the nation's community colleges can make a huge contribution toward a competitive national workforce. Community colleges offer a broad array of career-oriented certificates and associate degrees through what is generally called "career technical education" or CTE. Policymakers across the country are hoping to rely heavily on community college CTE programs to recharge their economies. To fulfill this hope, community colleges must tailor their offerings to address labor market needs and must design programs to be accessible and valuable to students with different levels of preparation and at different stages of their careers. Recent high school graduates, under-employed and unemployed adults, incumbent workers looking for career advancement, and college graduates seeking retraining all can benefit from CTE programs that offer clear pathways from shorter-term, entry-level to longerterm, higher-level credentials in their chosen fields.
In California, the CTE mission is not realizing its tremendous potential, as we explained in our 2011 report The Road Less Traveled. Students are not widely encouraged to pursue CTE programs and those who do make far more progress in completing course work than they do in acquiring credentials in their fields. This report is the first in a four-part project aimed ultimately at identifying ways that state and system policy can best support California's community colleges in operating CTE programs that meet the needs of their students and regions.
Here we provide an overview of the complex structure and funding arrangements for the CTE mission and the closely related economic and workforce development (EWD) mission. CTE primarily serves students through credit-based programs; EWD primarily serves employers by addressing the education and training needs of industries of economic importance to the state and its regions. Our primary interest is in the capacity of community college CTE to deliver education and training that leads to credentials of value to students and employers and contributes to a competitive state workforce. We include EWD in our study because of its potential to help shape a workforce-relevant CTE mission. An examination of the full extent of the EWD mission and its role in state workforce development is outside the scope of this project.
Our research to date confirms that there is a clear rationale for sustaining separate CTE and EWD missions but that better collaboration across the two missions would strengthen the CTE mission (see Appendix A for research methods). In this first phase of research we identified five issues that deserve attention as efforts move forward to improve the effectiveness of CTE in the California Community Colleges.
This four-part study is guided by a set of seven criteria that characterize an effective CTE enterprise, drawn from an extensive review of the literature on career education and workforce preparation (see Figure 2). Our research to date leads us to conclude, preliminarily, that current policies, structures, and funding arrangements in California have let the CTE operation fall short of satisfying these criteria. There are exceptional programs, dedicated faculty and staff, and myriad examples of student success, but the enterprise as a whole falls short of its potential and of what California needs to sustain a competitive workforce.