Skip to main content

Responding to Economic Crisis: What can community colleges do?

Responding to Economic Crisis: What can community colleges do?

When financial markets collapsed back in 2008, the gravity of the situation called for an immediate response – bailouts, unemployment benefits, and a host of government investments through the The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). While we are still making our way back to a strong economy, we have learned some lessons about recovery. A new paper by MDC describes how a particular ARRA project, Career Pathways for a Green South, helped a set of community colleges expand their capacity to better serve students facing multiple employment barriers, such as a lack of education or a criminal record.

In the post-recession recovery, expectations for community colleges are high. With such a great need for skills training and better jobs it is no wonder that colleges are taking center stage in the media and in policy discussions. But are colleges ready for the challenge? Drawing on our Career Pathways for a Green South experience, MDC’s How Community Colleges Can Respond to Economic Crisis details insights about how colleges can meet current and future workforce needs. A sneak preview of the three capacities follows.

Capacity #1: Recruitment

The Career Pathways for a Green South colleges reached out to local social service and public housing agencies and held information sessions and interviews on-site at their offices. Nancy Townsend of Mountain Empire Community College in Virginia described the work as “totally beyond what the college normally provides.” Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College in South Carolina also took extra measures to recruit individuals by facilitating a series of expungement workshops to help individuals clear up criminal records.

Capacity #2: Case management and support services

As part of their Career Pathways for a Green South effort, Trident Technical College (TTC) in South Carolina hired a green job coach to help individual students to complete their training and get prepared for employment. The coach developed referral networks with churches and organizations such as Goodwill, Father to Father (a parent support group,) and halfway houses for ex-offenders. After enrollment, the coach and TTC support team met with each student periodically during training to address barriers to completion and create an employment plan.

Capacity #3: Job placement

Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina engaged industry representatives in an advisory council for critical input into curriculum design, and also met with individual employers to collect information about job openings. These employers participated in workshops and roundtable discussions about key factors in getting a job. By asking employers to share their knowledge with the students, the CPCC staff built additional relationships with industry that created stronger job search networks.

The training and support provided through Career Pathways for a Green South produced important economic gains for hundreds of low-income jobseekers and their families. You’ll find more details in the full report, which you can download here. To build on these outcomes, colleges across the country will need to continue to test and improve methods for helping students in poverty succeed in gaining new skills and making their way into the labor market.