I recently read an article about post-COVID-19 workforce development. The authors indicated that institutional budget cuts, the need to deliver online education and meeting employer needs will impact community college workforce development. This approach overlooks two important factors: the student and the community.
When community colleges focus inordinately on “workforce development,” they may perform disservices to both their students and communities. First, employers’ needs do not always dovetail with those of the students and the community. Sadly, some community colleges choose to prioritize the needs of the employer. This is – and should be – – problematic.
The students and the community are also the community college’s “customers.” While employers may advocate – sometimes noisily – to shape the focus of a community college’s curriculum, they only champion their own self-interest. The anachronistic “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country,” may have sounded right in 1953. 67 years on, it lacks a sophistication that 21st century life requires.
Using community resources to create narrowly tailored programs for employers may ignore the best interests of the students and the community who ultimately pay for them. It gives generously to an employer at the expense of the students. Students gain a limited skill set that may ignore the needs of competing employers. This ultimately stifles both economic growth and competition. It is one of the most pernicious forms of corporate welfare.
Without doubt, employer input can be valuable when evaluating education and training programs. But community colleges should never permit employers to dictate core educational content. Further, the community college should always focus on delivering the highest quality programs and foundational education that students can build on.
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