Empowering Community Colleges for Economic Change

Community colleges across the United States are facing unprecedented challenges. Engaging students with relevant courses that help them achieve career goals in the tech industry is a difficult proposition, when faced with the trials of remote learning, constantly shifting industry demand, and fast-moving technological progress.

According to most data sources, including several articles on The EvoLLLution website, shorter-term, stackable certificate programs that directly relate to an area’s sector/industry needs is one of the critical steps community colleges need to take in order to thrive in today’s rapidly evolving climate. With the ever-increasing focus on STEM education and vocational and independent schools providing high-quality, non-degree courses, now is the time for community colleges to pivot their focus to address industry needs for certified skilled workers.

Below are four key areas Community Colleges should focus on when building a successful short-term, stackable credential program that leads to job creation.

Form strategic partnerships

Community colleges can successfully work with partners, such as Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs), industry associations, and economic development associations to address the skill gaps in their local markets. With this collaboration, they can compare their current offerings against the local industry’s critical needs to determine what skills are needed for jobs now and the future. Community Colleges leveraging partnerships are enjoying sustained growth. These alliances are not only ensuring that community colleges continue to meet the needs of the markets that they serve but that they will stay relevant to the ever-changing economies and workforce needs.

Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) are front-line partners to help institutions find federal, state, and local funding programs that offer career development training opportunities aligning with the industry’s needs. WIBs are conveners of the top sectors and can help institutions determine the local areas’ training needs. Because they work closely with unemployment centers, they are a conduit for adult learners and students looking to skill up.

Calculate return on investment

When institutions increase their professional development, continuing education, and adult learning programs with more industry-specific courses and certificates, they are finding success measured by increased enrollment, additional revenue streams, and more engagement with community partners and companies.

In addition, adult learners are looking for value and a return on their investment in months, not years. Many don’t have the luxury of taking off 4-6 years of their lives to attend college, in fact, a large percentage already have, and are still finding that the education they choose has not led to the rewarding careers they had hoped.

Most studies show that employment is the primary factor adult learners are looking at when deciding what school to attend. Taking the time to look at sites like Glassdoor and Indeed can give you much-needed insight as to what career paths are most in-demand and provide institutions a good picture of the ROI a student can receive from learning the skills necessary to land a new career in a given field. The most important aspects learners tend to consider is what their future earning potential will be and whether the education they are receiving will set them up to continue to grow within a given field.

The bottom line is that it’s important to evaluate the curriculum and instructional methodologies to ensure individuals will be given the skills necessary to obtain a rewarding career today and the growth mindset and skills to stay up-to-date and grow within their chosen field.

Stay adaptive and agile

Some schools struggle to move to an agile organizational structure. Adapting quickly to shifts in workforce demand is critical for schools to stay viable. As they look to develop and approve new curricula in a swift and cost-effective manner, establishing key partnerships with curriculum licensing organizations can be extremely beneficial. By delivering high quality, industry-leading curriculum in a cost-effective way that stays up-to-date with the ever-changing needs of our economy these partnerships can help Community Colleges stay relevant now and into the future.

Identify strong curriculum provider

Once the determination is made to add a short-term, stackable curriculum, the next big hurdle is ensuring that academic quality meets the institution’s pedagogical philosophy. Some areas to consider when licensing curriculum from another source is:

  • How is quality defined and measured by the institution? Accepting that there will be differences and then determining if it exceeds (or at least meets) your institutions’ standards.
  • Does the institution have subject matter experts, either instructors/professors in the same field or employees from the local companies that can help with the assessment? A panel of both is ideal.
  • Is the licensing partner responsible for maintaining and updating the curriculum? If so, how often? Is there a maintenance cost? How does the licensing fee compare to developing and maintaining a new curriculum?
  • Does the licensing partner work with the institution to ascertain what certificates would be most valuable to your local market(s)?
  • What verifiable data does that licensing partner offer as a measurement of their success? Some key factors to consider are employment outcomes, hiring partners, new company starts, references from other schools.
  • With a stackable curriculum, does the curriculum licensing organization provide a list of jobs the student is qualified for at the end of each certificate?
  • Does the course prepare the student for industry-recognized certification necessary to get hired in-field? What is the delivery format, and how does it line up with how your student population learns? If online, is it self-paced, asynchronous, or synchronous-live?


The trend for shorter and stackable courses enables the student or adult learner to quickly obtain the necessary skills/certificates to become gainfully employed within weeks. This will not only lead to a stronger local economy, where more individuals have a chance to succeed, but it will lead to a stronger brand for your institution within the community. Word of mouth is the strongest form of advertising any educational institution can have. Once an individual sees the value of their education in terms of a rewarding new career, not only are they more likely to come back for future learning opportunities, they are far more likely to refer others to do the same.

At Code Fellows, we want to ensure every community around the globe has the ability to provide the kind of education that empowers this potential in every member of their community. We’ve witnessed the difference that immersive, collaborative, supportive, career-focused education can make in communities across the United States, and we want to ensure your community college has the ability to bring the power of transformative education to your community, too.

Learn how Code Fellows can empower your college to be at the center of workforce transformation.

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