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Community Colleges and Workforce Development: Are They Achieving Their Potential?

March 21, 2023

At the roughly 1,000 public community colleges in the US, millions of students enroll in courses and programs that prepare them for either academic pursuits (such as transferring to a four-year college or university to pursue a bachelor's degree) or direct entry into the workforce. Those in the latter category gain occupational skills and credentials that include associate degrees and certificates; cer-tificates can be for academic credit or not and for varying lengths of time, and certificates and associate degrees can be for fields with diverging skill needs and varying amounts of regional demand for labor at any time. Employers in key regional industries generate this labor demand, and meeting their skill needs is an important workforce development role for community colleges.While community colleges meet a wide range of student and industry needs, are they meeting their potential—in terms of serving as an accessible point of entry to good jobs in the labor market and generating opportunities for high-quality skill development and workforce preparation at scale? For whom do they work more or less effectively? And what might be done to improve opportunities and outcomes there? What is the role of short-term versus long-term and for-credit versus noncredit programs? And how can we make sure that they adapt when labor markets evolve and are shaped by technological and global factors?In this report, we argue that community colleges provide millions of students, including people of color and those from low-income backgrounds, with the skills to prosper in the US labor market. At the same time, improvements are clearly needed on several dimensions. Community colleges are experimenting with a range of innovations to improve student performance and their programs' labor market value, and many such efforts are being rigorously evaluated. College administrators should implement the most promising practices broadly, while policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels should support their implementation.

Can child care and pre-K help reduce inflation?

June 2, 2022

Inflation has recently emerged as the top economic concern in the U.S. The Federal Reserve is now raising interest rates in an attempt to curb inflation, but their job would be easier, and the risk of a recession reduced, if we could directly address some of the job market bottlenecks that are contributing to inflation. This phenomenon has been called "the Great Resignation" – where there are too few workers to fill currently available jobs – because some have left the labor market, while others are reluctant to accept or keep jobs there. The aging of the U.S. population and a recent decline in immigration compound these effects.In his Wall Street Journal op-ed on May 31, President Biden listed a number of ways to reduce inflation – and one of them was cutting the cost of child care to families, so that the parents of small children could more easily enter the workforce. Indeed, his Build Back Better (BBB) agenda included policies such as greater access to child care and universal pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds, policies with the potential to boost labor supply and potentially reduce inflation. That legislation remains in limbo because of the opposition of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). But if it had been enacted a year ago, it could have made a difference – not just to the well-being of families and children but even to the inflationary pressures that have now emerged, pressures fueled in part by a lack of workers to produce the products and services people want.

A Very Uneven Road: US Labor Markets in the Past 30 Years

October 31, 2011

Compares wages, employment, and earnings during the 1979-82, 1989-92, 2000-03, and 2007-10 economic peaks and recessions by gender, education, region, and sector. Examines variations, patterns, and structural changes and projects a gradual recovery.

Promoting Economic Mobility by Increasing Postsecondary Education

May 12, 2009

Explores policy options for expanding educational opportunities for low-income students to enhance upward economic mobility. Examines the effectiveness of student aid in promoting college completion and proposes a plan for better guidance and preparation.

The Next Stage for Social Policy: Encouraging Work and Family Formation Among Low-Income Men

October 22, 2008

Examines proposals to create work incentives for less-educated young men by changing the Earned Income Tax Credit for the childless into an individual work credit and reducing the marriage penalty. Simulates each proposal's effects, with cost estimates.

Workforce Development and the Disadvantaged: New Directions for 2009 and Beyond

September 1, 2008

Assesses the 1998 Workforce Investment Act's successes and limitations. Outlines the changes needed, such as increasing funding and consolidating programs, for a more effective public workforce training system, especially for the young and hard-to-employ.

Helping Poor Working Parents Get Ahead: Federal Funds for New State Strategies and Systems

July 15, 2008

Examines the cost-effectiveness of state job advancement systems and outlines a proposal for federally funding programs that provide more education and training, greater access to better-paying jobs, and more robust financial incentives and supports.

Reconnecting Young Black Men: What Policies Would Help?

September 20, 2007

The term "disconnected youth" refers to young people who have been out of school and out of work for considerable periods of time – like a year or more. They are not temporarily "idle" but are fully disconnected from the mainstream worlds of schooling and work. They may be incarcerated or on parole or probation; they might be aging out of foster care or still attached to their nuclear families. But, overwhelmingly, they come from low-income families and often grow up in poor and relatively segregated neighborhoods. Of all racial and gender groups, young black men are by far the most likely to become "disconnected" from school and work. In the year 2000 – when the labor market was very tight – over 17 percent of all young black men between the ages of 16 and 24 were disconnected, while the comparable percentages for other race/gender groups were much lower. Indeed, this figure implies that one out of every six young black men was disconnected from both school and work at that time.

Declining Employment Among Young Black Less-Educated Men: The Role of Incarceration and Child Support

April 1, 2004

From 1980 to 2000, incarceration levels and enforcement of child support policies -- both of which disproportionately affect young, poorly educated African American men -- increased significantly. The authors performed a quantitative study using state-level data to test the effects of these factors on employment and labor force participation. Indeed, incarceration and child support policies contributed to declining employment among this demographic.