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  • Writer's pictureRachel Lipson

Four things community college leaders should know to maximize their workforce edge


A recent white paper from the Project on Workforce at Harvard University sheds light on the challenges and opportunities of education-to-employment that reveals insights for community college leaders.

Director of the Project on Workforce, Rachel Lipson, writes with Shalin Jyotishi for New America on four key takeaways from Working to Learn report.

Executive Summary

  1. Community colleges may have untapped fundraising potential to support their workforce mission. The Harvard research underscores that the business model for workforce development remains challenging. Organizations outside the community college sector are heavily subsidized by philanthropy. The median organization in New Profit’s applicant pool expected 60 percent of their annual revenue to come from philanthropy, and one-quarter expected philanthropy to cover over 90 percent of their revenue.

  2. Community college programs can stand out by emphasizing quality employer relationships and wraparound services. Even in a grant competition focused on connecting postsecondary education and employment, many early-stage ventures and community-based organizations did not prioritize connecting with businesses. Only about one-third of the organizations applying for funding mentioned that they were working directly with employers.

  3. Almost all workforce training providers need to better balance job-specific and foundational skills. The Harvard research highlights that too few workforce organizations are prioritizing the “soft skills” or 21st-century skills needed for the future of work. Less than nine percent of applicants emphasized providing both foundational career skills, like adaptability, resilience, and communication, while also building technical “hard” skills for particular occupations and job roles.

  4. Both community colleges and non-profits should prioritize tracking the quality of jobs that graduates secure. Working to Learn highlights that although many alternative training providers aspire to achieve upward mobility for participants, few are able to track long-term progress towards this goal.


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