Retraining at Community Colleges: A Status Update

Retraining at Community Colleges: A Status Update
President Obama has called on community colleges to retrain America, but how well have the campuses answered the call? We looked across the country for a retraining status update - and the answers are surprising.
Two years ago, with a morbidly slumping economy and unemployment rates rising to the highest levels in decades, President Obama turned to community colleges as a means of bringing our country back to a state of robust economic health. According to a Washington Post report, Obama told the country that being unemployed is "no longer just a time to look for a new job." Instead, it's time to "prepare yourself for a better job."
 
To make it easier for displaced workers to get the training they needed to find employment once again, President Obama developed a plan that would allow unemployed workers to continue to receive unemployment benefits, as well as Pell Grants, to head back to school for retraining. Obama said, "I have asked every American to commit to at least one year of higher education. Every American will need more than a high school education."
 
Community Colleges Put it in Gear
 
To achieve Obama's end, community colleges across the country started kicking it into high gear, networking with employers in their area to provide job-specific training that would get the people in their communities back to work once again. However, it wasn't long before the economic crunch took its toll on higher education as well, and community colleges were forced to tighten their belts along with the rest of the country. With many budget cuts to grapple with, class sizes grew bigger and wait lists got longer. Still, throughout the struggles, community colleges are finding ways to do what they have always done best – get people the degrees and certificates they need to land the jobs they want.
 
Two years after President Obama laid out his challenge to displaced workers and community colleges across the country, it's time to take a look at the current state of the nation to determine whether the plan worked. While the nation as a whole is still seeing more than its share of financial hardship, there are certainly bright spots to celebrate. Some graduates of community colleges have found their training opened the door to careers that were even better than the jobs they lost when the economic crisis began. Schools are working with employers in their areas to train a whole new generation of employees. We will take a look at a few of the success stories that have occurred around the nation.
 
Colleges and Companies Working Together in Detroit
 
Detroit is one city that has seen more than its share of financial hardship in the past two years, but Oakland Community College is teaming up with a number of employers in the area to turn things around. OCC received $4.5 million from the state's Michigan New Jobs Training Program to educate new employees for these three major companies in the Detroit area: Dokka Fasteners, Inc., Meritor Inc. and Wabco Reman Solutions Inc.  According to a report in Crain's Detroit Business, the college plans to train up 76 Dokka employees over a seven-year period, 125 Meritor employees and 121 new Wabco employees within the same time frame.
 
REPAC Helps Displaced Arizonans Find Work
 
The Arizona Silver Belt recently reported on a program in Arizona that is helping displaced workers in the state find employment once again. The Re-Employment Pre-Layoff Assistance Center (REPAC) provides assistance finding jobs within the state and around the country. For those who are unable to find employment, the organization also helps individuals get the re-training they need to move into a whole new career. Through community colleges in Arizona, displaced workers can spend time in retraining programs, while continuing to collect their unemployment checks to make ends meet. In the end, these community college graduates may find work in more lucrative, less turbulent careers, thanks to the training they receive.
 
Ponca Closes Plant, Raises Hope
 
When the John Morell Plant in Ponca, Nebraska closed last year, 1,400 residents found themselves with no source of income to support their families, according to a report in the Sioux City Journal. For one displaced worker, Tim Crawford, that meant the opportunity to return to school and finish his education. After enrolling in Sioux City Community College, Crawford began the training process for a job in architectural and mechanical drafting. While it has not been easy for this father of five to hit the books and make ends meet on an unemployment check, he hopes to land a job after graduation that will pay more than his previous work at the plant.
 
Is Retraining the Right Approach for Community Colleges?
 
Despite many success stories around the country, questions still linger about whether the primary purpose of community colleges should be to retrain displaced workers. A Harris School working paper suggests that benefits for displaced workers who attend community college are similar to those for students who head to community college right out of high school. However, the study also suggests that with a wealth of work experience and significant maturity, the benefits for displaced workers should be much higher. This result may indicate that the cost of retraining does not provide as much value as training up a younger workforce. However, the Harris School working paper acknowledges that additional research should be done to provide solid evidence of this theory.
 
Despite the questions – and need for additional data to answer them – for the unemployed who have found new career life through community college, the answer is clear: community college is one effective path to rewarding employment once again.

Additional Resources [+]
New Study Finds Great Divide Between College Training and Real World
New Study Finds Great Divide Between College Training and Real World
President Obama Expands Skills for America's Future Program
President Obama Expands Skills for America's Future Program
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