Community colleges get job grants

A consortium of community colleges in California’s economically distressed San Joaquin Valley has been tapped by the U.S. Department of Labor for the first round of funding in a $2 billion federal program to train laid-off and dislocated workers.

“This initiative is about providing access to training that leads to real jobs,” said U.S. Labor Secretary and former California Congresswoman Hilda Solis.

Solis and U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, former Chancellor of California’s Foothill-De Anza Community College District, announced winners of the competitive grant program yesterday during a telephone call with journalists. Each year, for the next four years, the program will distribute $500 million to U.S. community colleges. It’s funded as part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.

The proposal from the Central California Community Colleges Committed to Change, also known as C6, is one of 32 programs selected by the Labor Department from over 200 applicants. C6 will receive $20 million over three years to develop and implement credential and degree programs in conjunction with local industries to meet their needs for skilled workers.

“I’m extremely delighted about this grant; I think it will mean a great deal for the Central Valley,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott.  “That’s one of the areas of California that has the highest unemployment rates, so that’s going to be particularly meaningful to them in their career technical programs and other programs that put Californians to work.”

Areas Served by Grant- 16 Counties in San Joaquin Valley covering 27,282 Square Miles (C6 Consortium abstract). Click to enlarge.
Areas Served by Grant- 16 Counties in San Joaquin Valley covering 27,282 Square Miles (C6 Consortium abstract). Click to enlarge.

There are twelve community colleges in the consortium, covering sixteen counties in the Central Valley.  The region’s unemployment rate ranges from 9.7% in Inyo County to 17.5% in Merced County, according to a report issued last month by the California Employment Development Department.

The consortium proposes to provide hands-on instruction to train more than 3,000 people for jobs in the region’s up-and-coming and changing industries including alternative energy, agriculture, manufacturing, and health care.  [A huge prison health care facility scheduled to open in Stockton in 2013 will house about 1,700 inmates and is creating a demand for nurses and psychiatric technicians].

“This grant is a game changer for higher education in the Central Valley,” Dr. Frank Gornick, Chancellor of West Hills Community College District, which is taking the lead on the grant, told the Hanford Sentinel.  “Over the next three years, this grant will allow us to focus on raising standards, increasing student success and changing education practice and policy throughout the state.”

One of the foremost challenges is figuring out how to keep students in school long enough to get through the programs. Community colleges are plagued with dismal graduation and transfer rates; about 70 percent of students don’t earn a credential or degree, or transfer to a four-year college.

So the C6 project is attempting to systematically change the way education is delivered.  “We’re trying to streamline the process so people can get in, take the courses they need to transfer or be career ready, and get out,” said Carole Goldsmith, Vice Chancellor of Educational Services and Workforce Development for West Hills Community College District.

The consortium has established eight “guiding principles” that research shows have the best chances of keeping students in school by building in support services, using technology to help accelerate the courses and creating cohorts of students who go through the program together.

  • Integrated Program Design:  Students enroll in a single, coherent program.
  • Cohort Enrollment:  The same group of students registers for a pre-determined sequence of courses and class schedules.
  • Block Scheduling:  Providing a fixed classroom-meeting schedule, consistent from term to term.
  • Compressed Classroom Instruction:  Providing online curriculum materials and instruction to reduce the time needed to move students from training to degree to work.
  • Embedded Remediation:  Providing developmental skills review in tandem with the job training program.
  • Increase Transparency:  C6 programs will be advertised, priced and delivered as high-value programs leading to clearly defined credentials and connected to regional employer need.
  • Transformational Technology:  C6 will redesign courses to incorporate new and  existing technology as well as blended learning models, and will seek out open-source textbooks to save money.
  • Innovative Student Support Services:  Student support services will be embedded into the programs using technology and partnerships with employers to supplement traditional support services.

The consortium colleges will spend the first year or so of the grant pulling together the industry partners to create a detailed strategic plan that will be sustainable long after the federal money is gone, and can be replicated at community colleges throughout the state and the nation.

“Our approach is to help shape policy through practice,” said Goldsmith.  “I’ve been in the business now for 15 years and this is the largest, most comprehensive planning project I’ve seen.”

Author: Kathryn Baron

Kathryn Baron, co-writer of TOP-Ed (Thoughts On Public Education in California), has been covering education in California for about 15 years; most of that time at KQED Public Radio where her reports aired on The California Report as well as various National Public Radio programs. She also wrote for magazines and newspapers before going virtual as producer and editor at The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Kathy grew up in New York in a family of teachers. She moved to California for graduate school and after spending one sunny New Year’s Day riding her bicycle in the foothills, decided to stay. She and her husband live in Belmont. They have two children, one in college and one in high school.

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