The Role of Community College in Connecting Students to Careers

Posted November 9, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A woman of African descent walks down the steps of campus with more students walking behind her. She is smiling as she carries a backpack around one shoulder and is holding a phone in her hand.

Com­mu­ni­ty col­leges can play an impor­tant role in help­ing stu­dents build life­long careers, accord­ing to two doc­u­ments recent­ly released by pub­lic pol­i­cy think tank New Amer­i­ca and fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

A post-sec­ondary cre­den­tial can be an impor­tant step­ping stone to high-qual­i­ty employ­ment for mil­lions of young peo­ple,” says Alli­son Ger­ber, who directs Casey’s employ­ment, edu­ca­tion and train­ing invest­ments. By iden­ti­fy­ing the obsta­cles that young peo­ple face when advanc­ing their edu­ca­tion, col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties can bet­ter sup­port these stu­dents in suc­ceed­ing both aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly and financially.”

Resource Overviews

Address­ing America’s Afford­abil­i­ty Cri­sis: Help­ing Young Peo­ple Earn Col­lege Cre­den­tials and Con­nect to Careers” by Iris Palmer

This brief spot­lights Dal­las Col­lege and its efforts to keep young peo­ple on a path­way to post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion and, ulti­mate­ly, a career. The pub­lic com­mu­ni­ty col­lege edu­cates over 100,000 stu­dents annu­al­ly across sev­en cam­pus­es. Stu­dents of col­or make up the major­i­ty of all stu­dents, with 43% of enrollees iden­ti­fy­ing as Lati­no, 20% iden­ti­fy­ing as Black and 20% iden­ti­fy­ing as white.

Enroll­ment at Dal­las Col­lege decreased by more than 25% between 2019 and 2021. Mean­while, the pover­ty rate in the coun­ty it serves — Dal­las Coun­ty — has jumped 42% over the last 15 years.

Palmer notes that:

  • an indi­vid­ual with an asso­ciate degree or high­er has access to sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er wages than some­one who has only com­plet­ed high school;
  • com­mu­ni­ty col­lege stu­dents are more like­ly to come from low-income house­holds or from fam­i­lies of col­or that have been exclud­ed from wealth-build­ing opportunities;
  • the eco­nom­ic fall­out from the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic and the ris­ing costs of hous­ing, health care, child care and trans­porta­tion are mak­ing it hard­er for stu­dents and their fam­i­lies to afford a col­lege education.

In response to what the brief refers to as an ongo­ing afford­abil­i­ty cri­sis” across the coun­try, Dal­las Col­lege has imple­ment­ed two unique strate­gies. These are: 

  1. Enable young peo­ple to earn col­lege cred­its before grad­u­at­ing high school. These oppor­tu­ni­ties are avail­able to all high school stu­dents and allow young peo­ple to earn col­lege cred­its or par­tic­i­pate in paid intern­ships or appren­tice­ships. By gain­ing work expe­ri­ence, col­lege cred­its or even an asso­ciate degree before they are con­sid­ered finan­cial­ly inde­pen­dent adults, stu­dents can leave high school with a more sta­ble career path.
  2. Cre­ate a stu­dent sup­port net­work that address­es basic needs. Dal­las College’s Stu­dent Care Net­work con­nects stu­dents with basic needs — such as food, hous­ing and oth­er neces­si­ties — from enroll­ment through grad­u­a­tion. Aid avail­able through the net­work includes: rental assis­tance, emer­gency hous­ing, men­tal health coun­sel­ing and on-cam­pus child care. 

What Every­one Should Know about Design­ing Equi­ty-Mind­ed Paid Work-Based Learn­ing Oppor­tu­ni­ties for Col­lege Stu­dents by Mau­riell H. Amechi

This report tells how post­sec­ondary insti­tu­tions — includ­ing com­mu­ni­ty col­leges — con­nect indi­vid­u­als to work-based learn­ing and hands-on expe­ri­ences that can sup­port their life­long success.

While these oppor­tu­ni­ties, such as unpaid intern­ships, are ben­e­fi­cial, they are often less acces­si­ble to com­mu­ni­ty col­lege stu­dents. Amechi notes that:

  • Work-based learn­ing with­out com­pen­sa­tion can do more harm than good. Com­mu­ni­ty col­leges often serve stu­dents of col­or or stu­dents from low-income house­holds who are respon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing for their fam­i­lies. As a result, many com­mu­ni­ty col­lege stu­dents can­not afford to take on unpaid oppor­tu­ni­ties ver­sus paid work.
  • Stu­dents at four-year col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties often get the first (and only) pick of work-based learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. As the research indi­cates: Stu­dents at four-year col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties are sig­nif­i­cant­ly more like­ly to be award­ed an intern­ship when com­pared to stu­dents at two-year institutions.

Advice for Com­mu­ni­ty Col­leges and Policymakers

To make work-based learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties more acces­si­ble to com­mu­ni­ty col­lege stu­dents, the report out­lines four rec­om­men­da­tions for com­mu­ni­ty col­lege lead­ers and state pol­i­cy­mak­ers. This advice is:

  1. Recon­sid­er stu­dent pop­u­la­tions his­tor­i­cal­ly exclud­ed from paid work-based learn­ing opportunities.
  2. Con­duct com­pre­hen­sive pro­gram eval­u­a­tions annu­al­ly to exam­ine stu­dent outcomes.
  3. Imple­ment a $15 hourly base salary and take steps to address stu­dent needs, such as access to child care or transportation.
  4. Increase insti­tu­tion­al fund­ing to pro­mote growth and sustainability.

Learn how to help work­ing com­mu­ni­ty col­lege stu­dents succeed

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