One of the ongoing discussions in the Commonwealth of Virginia and other states is the need to assure that we have a well-qualified workforce. In Virginia, the Virginia Community College was designated as the state agency with primary responsibility for workforce development. While I recognize and applaud the important role community colleges play in workforce development, I believe we need to take a larger/broader view of workforce development that includes everything from skills training to graduate degrees. In my mind, the most effective long-term approach for creating a highly skilled/educated workforce is leveraging the strengths and creating partnerships between community colleges and four-year institutions, and bring those strengths and partnerships to bear on the needs of business and industry. I believe we need to build a seamless pathway that allows for the portability of a student/employee’s learning experiences from high school to on-the-job training to community college to a four-year degree to a graduate degree.
A couple of years ago I addressed the need for a seamless pathway in a short white paper, and I’m sharing it with you because I believe it continues to be a pertinent issue for all of our institutions. I would certainly appreciate any feedback.
Need for a seamless pathway
A number of studies have demonstrated the importance of providing a seamless pathway for students to move from “training” to high school experiences to completing a two-year degree to moving to the completion of a four-year degree program. Simply put, there exists a critical need to find a way to make all learning experiences portable.
A recent report from Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based research organization, showed that the United States is falling behind other developed nations in terms of the share of population with a college degree1.
The report suggests that if the trend does not change, the US will have 15.6 million fewer bachelor’s and associate’s degree holders than we need in order to continue to be competitive in the world market2.
If the US is to avoid this outcome, we need to increase our annual degree production by more than 37 percent, meaning that we will need to reach beyond the 18-22 year olds we reach now.
A recent report from the Lumina Foundation for Education, “Hitting Home: Quality, Cost, and Access Challenges Confronting Higher Education Today,” suggests that higher education can take proactive steps to help close the degree gap. The report suggests a new pathway to a degree. The pathway would include:
-developing pre-baccalaureate, career-related certificate programs
-providing part-time degrees
-creating year-round, accelerated and convenient programs
-facilitating degree mapping3
Their data suggest “that these pre-baccalaureate programs should offer both job training and credit-bearing courses that contribute to requirements for associates’ degrees.” In addition, this can be enhanced by identifying competencies that will link all educational/training experiences from specific training experiences to the completion of a degree program. Again, the key is assuring the portability of learning experiences.
Creating a seamless pathway will also address two other emerging issues; the educational gap and the salary gap. The educational gap is growing; the difference in the percentage of working-age population with a bachelor’s degree or higher between whites and Hispanics/Latinos, has almost doubled over the last decade, up from 12 percentage points in 1980 to 19 in 2000, and the gap between whites and African-Americans has expanded from 11 to 15 percentage points.3
In addition, by finding new ways for a seamless pathway, we will also address the emergence of a salary gap. If the educational gap remains unaddressed, the “personal income per capita in the United States is projected to decline from $21,591 in 2000 to $21,196 in 2020—a drop of $395.”3
1Schmidt, P. (2007) America is falling behind other nations in degree attainment, report warns, The Chronicle of Higher Education, accesses online.
2Pusser, B., Breneman, D.W., Gansneder, B. M., Kohn, K. J., Levin, J. S., Milam, J. H., and Turner, S. A. (2007), Returning to learning: Adults’ success in college is key to America’s future, Lumina Foundation for Education New Agenda Series.
3(2007), Per capita income of U.S. workforce projected to decline if education doesn’t improve, excerpted from the National Policy Alert from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education for an issue paper to inform the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education.