Volume 8, Number 7
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Working It Out:
Community Colleges and the Workforce Investment Act
When the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) was passed, community colleges were considered the providers of choice for workforce training. Over time, however, it became apparent that colleges were not participating in the WIA system as anticipated. With support from Lumina Foundation for Education, researchers from MPR Associates, Inc., investigated this lack of participation and conducted site visits to 12 community colleges across the country. Working It Out: Community Colleges and the Workforce Investment Act reports the results of this research, identifying common challenges the colleges faced in working with WIA and creative strategies they developed to overcome these challenges.
Available data on community college participation in WIA show wide variation in and among states in the types and levels of community college participation. On average, colleges serve only about 50 to 60 WIA clients a year. Most have programs on their state eligible training provider list, and a significant percentage operates or works in partnership with one-stop centers. Participation has increased over time, suggesting that colleges are gradually finding ways to overcome the obstacles presented by WIA.
Ten Challenges. Visits to colleges in 12 communities visited identified the following challenges to their greater participation in WIA:
- Getting on the eligible training provider list.
- Supplementing individual training account vouchers when they do not cover costs.
- Providing training within a work-first framework.
- Adopting demand-driven models of workforce development.
- Integrating workforce development into the community college mainstream.
- Developing state policies that enhance cooperation between WIA and colleges at the local level.
- Avoiding unhelpful competition among colleges for WIA clients and dollars.
- Providing job-readiness and other such soft-skills training.
- Educating one-stop staff and employers about the workforce development capabilities of community colleges.
- Promoting collaboration—and avoiding duplication of services—among community colleges and other workforce development organizations.
Meeting the Challenges. All 12 community colleges found ways to overcome obstacles to their fuller participation in the WIA system. For example, one college overcame the difficulty of getting programs approved for the Eligible Training Provider list by redefining eligible programs. Another shortened its process for curriculum approval to two days to be more responsive to the needs of clients and local employers. Others joined forces with competitors or other organizations to eliminate duplication of services and serve a broad range of WIA clients.
Some challenges remain unresolved. For example, current accountability systems can be problematic for community colleges, and federal or state policy changes may be needed to rectify this. Working It Out describes lessons learned from these colleges and offers policy recommendations aimed at making it easier for more community colleges to harness the resources of WIA.
The full report is downloadable free at the MPR Associates, Inc., website at www.mprinc.com. MPR Associates, Inc., is a nonpartisan education research and consulting firm with offices in Berkeley, California and Washington, DC.