Close Partnerships Between US Community Colleges And Corporations Produce Graduates With Skills Required By Industry

[the-subtitle Time to go national on the basis of this collaborative formula]

By Paolo von Schirach

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February 21, 2012

WASHINGTON – I recently reported (see link above) that Peter Orszag, formerly Obama’s Budget Director and now with Citigroup, in a high profile Chicago speech strongly advocated more organic links between corporations, especially manufacturers, and Community Colleges, so that these vital education institutions will be able to give their students exactly the kind of skills that potential employers do need. This would be a good way to give people jobs, while helping corporations fill positions that will help their economic expansion.

Colleges and companies establish close cooperation

This need for “teaching customization”, for creating a good fit between instruction received and the actual jobs that are out there may seem self-evident, but apparently it is not yet the case, at least not nationwide. And this is why this emerging trend should be encouraged. In his speech, Orszag applauded an initiative under way in the greater Chicago region whereby companies are structuring a productive dialogue leading to closer relationships with area Community Colleges.

The formula works

And just today a very detailed Associated Press story (Speed puts community colleges front and center) illustrates concrete examples of very successful company-college partnerships, including close cooperation linking Fitzpatrick Manufacturing Co. in Sterling Heights, Michigan and Macomb Community College, just a few miles away.

These successful partnerships are possible, the AP reports, because Community Colleges are relatively small and have greater flexibility in adjusting instruction according to employers needs and –most importantly– they can do this adjusting very fast. The downside of custom tailored courses is that they are generally outside the established curriculum, and so they do not count towards a degree. And this may be a handicap for the student down the line.

But, all in all, the evidence so far suggest that these close ties between Community Colleges and companies are mutually advantageous. The students get the instruction they need to land a job, and the companies get the skilled people they want.

This approach should become standard

If this approach became dominant, then America could more easily cut down unemployment. In fact, the sad irony is that, even in this pretty bad jobs market with unemployment at 8.3%, there are tens of thousands of positions unfilled in America, because companies cannot get the people with the specialized skills they need. Customized Community College curricula do help fill this large gap.

Time to go national on what seems to be a very successful formula.

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