Associate Professor James Bartlett Examines Role of Community Colleges in Reducing the Skills Gap in New Report

NC State College of Education Associate Professor James Bartlett, Ph.D.

Associate Professor James Bartlett, Ph.D., is examining the steps community colleges are taking to prepare the workforce in a recently published American Council on Education report entitled Preparing the Workforce in Today’s Community Colleges: Issues and Implications for Higher Education Leaders,.

Co-authored by Bartlett, the report examines how community colleges are helping to reduce the skills gap through credit-based, non-credit and technical education programs while offering four strategies for enhancing the workforce development mission of community colleges.

“With this brief, I hope that we have more community colleges looking at local labor market demands and that there’s more alignment with labor market demand for careers that have family sustainable wages,” Bartlett, director of the Charlotte adult and community college doctoral cohort, said.

The report closely analyzes the courses of study selected by community college students and compares that data with projected growth in those fields.

The data shows that community colleges are producing enough students in certain areas, such as health sciences, to closely align with labor market needs. However, when it comes to fields like information technology, human services, and hospitality and tourism, which show high projected growth rates through 2026, community colleges are not graduating enough students with the skills necessary to meet demand.

“While there are areas where we do have some alignment, there’s still room for improvement and we have other areas where there are some large gaps,” Bartlett said.

The report argues there is also room for improvement in the transfer process for students who earn an Associate of Applied Science degree and then plan to matriculate to a four-year institution. According to the report, the Associate of Applied Science degree is the fastest growing degree in the North Carolina Community College System, but students who earn this degree often lose credits in the transfer process and graduate within four years at lower rates.

“The Associate of Applied Science degree is the fastest growing; however despite the success, there’s no common articulation agreement for those degrees, which is a huge concern,” Bartlett said.

The report also examines how community colleges can improve outcomes through various practices, including offering apprenticeships and credit for prior learning gained through things like military service.

“We’re actually seeing a growth, especially in North Carolina, in the use of apprenticeships. They naturally align with labor market demand because there’s such a strong connection with employers,” Bartlett said.

Four Strategic Implications for Advancing Opportunities to Enhance the Workforce Development Mission of Community Colleges Outlined in the Report:

  • Provide equitable opportunities for students in career and technical education (CTE): “As with all program areas, leaders should consider access and affordability and also provide the support or wrap-around services that so many community colleges need. These may be particularly relevant for CTE students who may already be employed in their field of study while completing credentials.”
  • Build transfer pathways for students who earn Associate of Applied Science degrees: “While not the traditional transfer route, more efficient transfer paths through the AAS degree can contribute to more educated workforces that advance both personal and private goods and serve as engines of social mobility, particularly for populations that may not have thought that a baccalaureate degree was within the realm of possibility”
  • Advance Ties with Industry Through Apprenticeships: “Community colleges can and must continue to embrace their strong ties to industry. This can be done through industry advisory groups informing curriculum, direct partnerships to develop sponsored occupational training through non-credit offerings and a host of other ways through nimble community colleges working with local and regional partners.”
  • Consider Organizational Culture When Awarding Credit for Prior Learning and Implementing Non-credit to Credit Articulation: “Community colleges can and should explore alternative approaches to earning credit while considering the culture of their organizations….On a related topic, community colleges also have opportunities to award credit for learning that occurs through noncredit courses and programs.”
Read the Full Report