It seems to me….
“Community colleges provide higher education where people live, helping to build strong ladders of opportunity that allow people to secure a foothold in the middle class.” ~ Thomas Perez.
Our current education model with formal education primarily confined to the young is no longer sufficient as the need for new skills and constant updates accelerates. As manufacturing employment changes from production line assembly, routine office jobs, and repetitive clerical work to innovative and creative positions, higher levels of formal education becomes necessary. As the need for training/retraining increases, it mainly is only those already degreed who take advantage of online educational offerings.
Even skills learned in K-12 schools atrophy unless used but many low-end jobs give workers little opportunity to use what taught. New ways of learning are essential to help those most in need, policymakers should be aiming for something far more radical than is currently available. Because education is a public good whose benefits spill over to all of society, governments have a vital role to play – not just by spending more but also by spending wisely.
87 percent of workers believe it will be essential for them to get training and develop new job skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with workplace changes. Changes in educational and learning environments are necessary to help people stay employable in the labor force of the future; our education system will need to adapt to prepare individuals for the changing labor market. At the same time, recent IT advances offer new and potentially more widely accessible ways to access education. A central question about the future, then, is whether formal and informal learning structures will evolve to meet the changing needs of people who wish to qualify for future workplace expectations.
Automation is projected to transform the U.S. workforce making higher-level STEM skills critical in fields that once required little more than manual dexterity. Not everyone will successfully navigate the shifting jobs market. Those most at risk of technological disruption are men in blue-collar jobs, many of whom reject taking less “masculine” roles in fast-growing areas such as health care, but to keep the numbers of those left behind to a minimum, all adults must have access to flexible affordable training.
Community colleges, which educate about 40 percent of all undergraduates in the U.S., have the potential to become the much-needed engines of economic and social mobility but are facing declining enrollment and tightening budgets even as officials hold them up as the answer to bridging the country’s blue-collar skills gap.
All educational institutions are increasingly dependent upon student tuition for funding at a time when those attending are less able to afford it – low-income students outnumber middle- and high-income students at community colleges by 2 to 1 (a recent estimate is that as many as 14 percent might be homeless). The time has come for attendance at all institutions of public educational to be without cost; a logical place to start would be at the community college level.
Some states have recognized this necessity. Attendance at community colleges is free to state residents in Tennessee and Oregon while Arkansas and Kentucky are developing similar programs. Attendance at all public two and four-year colleges is free to many state residents in New York. K-16 education, at a minimum, should be free to all regardless of where they live. Unfortunately, rather than funding educational programs, Trump has proposed a 13 percent reduction in the Department of Education funding for the coming year making it even more difficult for such programs to serve student’s needs.
Community colleges, in addition to preparing students for further higher education, have become vocational and job-training centers for teachers, nurses, police officers, pilots, and dentists and provide skills necessary to qualify for locally available jobs. They enroll more women, minorities, and lower-income students and frequently are more likely to be located in smaller and rural areas.
More is needed – especially in student counselling and assistance such as childcare. Less than 40 percent of community college students graduate, many dropping out in their first year. Though 80 percent of two-year students claim their eventual goal to be a bachelor’s degree, only 14 percent earn one within six years. Attempting to balance work, family, and education can be too much for many students.
The need is obvious. 48 percent of small businesses reported in early 2017 that they were unable to fill open positions due to a lack of qualified applicants. Without an available option for employment improvement, increased economic inequality and social dissatisfaction can be anticipated.
That’s what I think, what about you?
 Thomas Edward Perez is a consumer advocate and civil rights lawyer who was the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 2013 to 2017.
 Equipping People To Stay Ahead Of Technological Change, The Economist, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21714341-it-easy-say-people-need-keep-learning-throughout-their-careers-practicalities, 14 January 2017.
 The State of American Jobs, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/10/06/the-state-of-american-jobs/, 6 October 2016.
 The Future of Jobs, World Economic Forum, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs.pdf, January 2016.
 Lee, Kristin. Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy, The White House, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/20/artificial-intelligence-automation-and-economy, 20 December 2016.
 Raine, Lee, and Janna Anderson. The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/03/the-future-of-jobs-and-jobs-training/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=be5de05165-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_05_04&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-be5de05165-400092341, 3 May 2017.
 National Federation of Independent Businesses.