The Role of Community College in Connecting Students to Careers
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.”
“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:
- 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.
- 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:
- Reconsider student populations historically excluded from paid work-based learning opportunities.
- Conduct comprehensive program evaluations annually to examine student outcomes.
- Implement a $15 hourly base salary and take steps to address student needs, such as access to child care or transportation.
- Increase institutional funding to promote growth and sustainability.