Community colleges can play an important role in supporting regional economic growth, and in Texas this is especially true!
Texas lags behind the national average when it comes to educational attainment, at 43%. While the state works towards accomplishing its attainment goal of 60% by 2030, it must look up to community colleges for help. Serving cost-effective education, these colleges not only prepare students to transfer into four-year degree programs, but offer critical non-credit workforce programming—which counts toward the attainment (not completion) rate—that helps members of the community get employment ready.
Despite their critical role, community and technical colleges still have work to do to create seamless and student-centric pathways that encourage enrollment and persistence. The current higher education climate—characterized by numerous education options and dwindling resources—requires college leaders to prioritize delivering a high-quality student experience, and take steps that can help them turn each and every student engagement into a (lifelong) lasting one.
While attracting students is important and the first step in the student lifecycle, retaining them and turning them into advocates will position colleges to serve students well into their 60s and beyond.
Promoting Lifelong Learning
So how can community colleges create an experience that will keep students enrolled through their educational journey?
One of the options available to community colleges to promote lifelong learning and aid student retention is offering stackable credentials. Stackable credentials are a series of ‘ascending credentials’ that allow students to progress from a short-term certificate to a degree and even beyond. These credentials offer students a promising pathway to earn while at the same time progress towards achieving high quality education outcomes in their chosen fields. Students stand to benefit by pursuing stackable credentials as they can enroll and re-enroll on their way to building labor market value.
Stackable credentials also offer a flexible mechanism to community colleges to serve the needs of the underserved communities. After all, community colleges strive to reach out to their respective community members who are not considered or haven’t really thought about themselves as ready for college.
But creating a culture of stackable credentialing is seldom easy. For it to be successful, there is a great deal of cooperation required between community colleges and the industry.
Establishing Partnerships to Create Stackable Programming
Community colleges stand to create a lot of value by partnering with employers. A partnership allows colleges to understand the challenges faced by an industry, which informs what colleges can do to create programming that is more responsive and relevant to the needs of the industry.
The ultimate beneficiary of such partnerships is the student community! They not only get to upskill themselves, but also get access to a stable employment opportunity.
Here’s a living example of a robust industry-college partnership that created an innovative stackable credential model supporting both the industry and community development.
Lone Star College, a public community college serving Greater Houston in Texas, has partnered with the International Association of Drilling Contractors to support the development of technical and essential skills and get their students employment ready for the Oil and Gas industry.
“Our administration—from college CEO to faculty—are deeply informed in regard to what the most important Oil and Gas Upstream, manufacturing and service provider employers are looking for in their current and future workforce. Not just trends but the details – at a very specific level – technical and behavioral,” said Linda Head, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor of External and Employer Relations at the Lone Star College, in her interview with The EvoLLLution.
This has ultimately helped Lone Star College create market responsive programming and add valuable skills to their students’ repertoire.
“Our curriculum is relevant because the faculty and workforce experts, like myself, can continuously ensure we add the right industry certifications, skills, math and competency levels,” said Head. “Our students are selected for interviews and don’t have to worry about getting lost in the impersonal and intimidating online interview processes of today’s large employers.”
According to Head, a collaborative approach has helped solve problems, for both the industry and the community college.
“Honesty, collaboration and trust are essential to forging long-term partnerships. Trust is probably the most important. But also thinking of the other when there are opportunities and trying to figure out in each project and new relationship how and when to include each other.”
The trust and robust partnership approach has led to the creation of a stackable credentialing model that promotes career development of community individuals, right from their first job to all the way up as they progress through their careers. And in its own unique way, this model is helping Texas reach its goal of educational attainment.
Read our paper and learn the different phases of a student lifecycle and how credentials can create student advocacy.