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No college degree? No problem

The headline on a story caught my attention this afternoon. It reads: No college degree? More employers than ever just don’t care

This kind of shatters the myth that community colleges have sold themselves on: that they work with employers to tailor academic programs to employers’ workforce development needs. That approach sells the students in these programs short, and now, it seems like employers don’t need workers with college diplomas after all.

The article describes “white collar apprentice programs” at employers like Google, Amazon and Salesforce. Employers no longer need colleges for workforce development and they want prospective workers to know that they – the workers – don’t need colleges, either.

Hmm. That’s kind of a kick in the teeth, isn’t it?

So, where does that leave community colleges? Most likely struggling to find students. Why should high school graduates enroll in college when they can enter the workforce directly? What would convince a person to spend money on a college degree that they don’t really need?

Community colleges will be most directly affected by this DIY approach to workforce development, so coming up with a counterstrategy is critical. What is the impetus to invest in a post-secondary education when employers don’t care if their employees have college degrees? Why spend money on a college degree when workers can make the same salary without investing their time or taking on unnecessary debt?

A college degree needs to mean something

Business is cutthroat. Without an effective response to this, community colleges are going to get their throats cut by their so-called “partners.” It’s already happening. Earlier this year, WCC issued a press release announcing a four-week training program in partnership with certain local employers. Those who completed the program could earn a starting wage of $12 per hour.

Taco Bell, Target, Costco, Chipotle, Walgreen’s, Walmart, Starbucks, CVS and Amazon are all currently hiring at $15 to start. Why even waste a month in a training program to earn 20% less than the market rate? Worse, why issue a press release about it?

In this case, WCC is actually doing the community and its students a disservice by offering a program like this. And if this is the future of “workforce development,” it’s a future this community doesn’t really need. WCC cannot cooperatively train workers for low-wage positions, and then issue press releases like it’s an accomplishment.

WCC already competes against other colleges and universities for students. These “white collar apprentice programs” aren’t aimed at university students. They’re aimed directly at would-be community college students. Our well compensated WCC Administrators need to come up with strategies to draw students into the classrooms.

And they’d better be more creative than “Want to make $12 per hour?”

Photo Credit: Washtenaw Community College , via Flickr