Business leaders depend on community colleges to offer work-force training, but high unemployment and state budget cuts have made it harder for the sector to do that work. That’s the message of a report released on Wednesday by the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama.
The report, “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Challenges Community Colleges Face to Reach the Unemployed,” is the third in a series based on results from the latest annual survey, conducted over the summer, of the 51 members of the National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges (Georgia has two).
Two years ago, 11 members of the council reported that unemployed workers in their states could attend community colleges tuition-free for retraining. By 2010, only four indicated that was the case. Unemployment, meanwhile, has remained stubbornly high, while stimulus funds have dwindled and state tax revenues have yet to bounce back. This year members from 21 states reported that funds for work-force training had been exhausted.
Nearly three-fourths of survey respondents agreed that in the face of such challenges, community colleges are being pushed to offer “quick” job training without academic credit. That limits colleges’ ability to invest in more expensive long-term programs, the report says, in fields like allied health, engineering, and information technology—the very fields that need more workers and tend to offer better pay. Forty-two members indicated that their states need more funds to expand programs in those areas.
The report ends with a warning. “Even as community colleges have long been known for persisting despite budget cuts and enrollment increases,” the authors say, “we are left wondering whether the sector has neared its limits.”