Inspiration and information were plentiful at the just-concluded 94th annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges in Washington, D.C. The convention confirmed what many of those in attendance already knew: that community colleges are “the bridge to the American Dream,” as keynote speaker Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” succinctly put it.
As chair of the AACC’s Committee on Program Initiatives and Workforce Training, I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion about how industry-community college partnerships are essential to students’ individual success and the overall economic vitality of a region. For partnerships to succeed, all the links in the chain must be strong. Community colleges must be extremely aware of local workforce needs, and must ensure that faculty members have the resources to produce work-ready graduates. Students must gain both the technical and the soft skills necessary for workplace success. And industry has to help community colleges with resources, and expand partnership opportunities through its customer and supplier networks.
One of the most interesting presentations, by representatives of Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., attempted to quantify the economic value of community colleges. The impact of the 163 million credits that 11.6 million students earned at U.S. community colleges in 2012 is enormous: $809 billion, or 5.4 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product. (I should point out that a November 2011 EMSI study of the socioeconomic impact of PCC calculated that the accumulated credits earned by former PCC students over the past 30 years translated to $887.3 million in added regional income in 2009-10, due to higher earnings by students and increased output of businesses.)
Another high point of the conference was the address by Vice President Joe Biden, who outlined a plan to increase community college graduation rates by giving college credit for apprenticeships. One of the important objectives of the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium initiative is to create a network of academic institutions, employers and associations that ultimately will help prepare students for the workplace. As an Inside Higher Ed story about the plan noted, this initiative is part of a larger effort to support programs involving prior learning assessment as an alternative path to a credential.
Let me conclude with a little more inspiration, courtesy of retired Gen. Colin Powell, who made an extraordinary presentation Tuesday. Gen. Powell reminded us that community colleges need to emphasize completion and must adapt to the United States’ changing demographic and socioeconomic landscape. His concluding message, that it’s not where you start in life, it’s what you do with life, that will determine your success, rang true for me, and it’s behind my commitment to make Pima Community College once again that bridge to a better life.