Getting the U.S. back to the top of the international college attainment rankings requires a focus on our community colleges. This is because the U.S. ranks second in the world in four-year degree attainment but ranks 18th when looking at two-year degree attainment rates. So there is certainly significant room for improvement when it comes to two-year degrees.
Of course, we shouldn’t focus on two-year degrees simply to move up the international rankings. We need to focus on two-year degrees because they are fast becoming an essential minimum prerequisite for a good job. Which is why the results of a U.S. Department of Labor grant program aimed at encouraging community colleges to prepare students for high wage and high skilled jobs is so encouraging.
Because of the grant, 15 community colleges across Massachusetts worked together to put a greater focus on preparing students for technical and middle-income jobs instead of simply preparing students to transfer onto a four-year institution. These community colleges did so by creating new and exciting degree and certification programs that were aligned with the preparation needed for jobs in six targeted industries such as health care, advanced manufacturing, IT, biotechnology, green energy and financial services. They even hired ‘college and career navigators’ to assist students in connecting with employers, not just when students nearly completed their degree, but throughout their time on campus. This ensures that students are receiving the training that area employers are looking for in future employees.
While such a program, in and of itself, will not catapult the U.S. back to the top of the international college attainment rankings, providing additional resources and incentives to community colleges will lead to more students completing a college degree and being better prepared to compete in the 21st century labor market. – Jim Hull