By: Amy Loyd, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education
With the founding of Joliet Junior College near Chicago, Illinois in 1901, America’s community colleges have a long history of transforming lives and serving as on-ramps to economic and social mobility. Over the past 122 years, our nation’s community colleges have grown to become integral in the fabric of our education system, serving 30% of all postsecondary students. They are situated to be accessible to virtually every community across the country, rural to urban, our community colleges provide open access to students from all walks of life, including incumbent workers and adults seeking to upskill through credential and degree programs as well as youth—both in high school through dual enrollment, and after high school as they pursue higher education and career-connected learning. For all students, community colleges create seamless pathways to economic opportunity and financial stability.
April is Community College Month and provides a valuable moment to reflect on the vital role that community colleges play as regional economic drivers, connecting workforce and economic development, spanning our k12 and four-systems. They provide students with inclusive, accessible pathways to postsecondary education, good jobs, and bright futures.
Community colleges are integral to the Biden-Harris Administration’s strategy to build back better and to Invest in America. The programs and services they offer are vital to growing our economy in fields such as infrastructure, science and technology innovation, advanced manufacturing, health care, childcare and family services, clean energy, and education. Community colleges also help to address key issues that people across our nation are facing, such as food and housing insecurity, transportation, and the mental and emotional needs of students and their families. In short, without community colleges, our nation would be at both a competitive disadvantage and unable to move forward economically.
The impact of our community colleges is extensive and pervasive:
- Over 10.2 million students are enrolled in community colleges (6.1 credit and 4.1 noncredit in Fall 2021, 35% of all undergrads nationwide (IPEDS Fall 2021 Enrollment Survey)).
- About 66% attend part-time; 34% full-time (IPEDS Fall 2021 Enrollment Survey).
- Community college students are diverse: 27% Hispanic, 12% African American, 6% Asian American or Pacific Islander, and 1% American Indian or Alaska Native (IPEDS Fall 2021 Enrollment Survey).
- Every year, community colleges help Americans earn over 877,240 associate degrees, nearly 600,000 career and technical certificates, and over 25,000 bachelor’s degrees (IPES Completion Survey 2021).
- And over half of adults in our country with a Bachelor’s degree—myself included—attended community colleges in their postsecondary trajectories.
During this month and throughout the year, we will amplify voices that show the influence community colleges can have on students, their communities, businesses, and local industry. We will showcase:
- The valuable role community colleges play in career and technical education and industry-sought certifications; their deep understanding of local employers’ needs is essential to meeting the needs of today’s workforce.
- Creating accessible career pathways in high-demand areas like infrastructure, broadband, renewable energy, electric vehicle repair, semiconductors, and more.
- Ensuring equitable opportunities for women, people of color, and other underserved students through providing career-building, in-demand industry credentials that align with today’s jobs and jobs of the future.
- How the Biden-Harris Administration is working to lower the costs of attending community college through free tuition and other benefits.
- ED’s Unlocking Career Success initiative, which is a partnership between ED, the Department of Labor, the Department of Commerce, and the White House. This initiative helps blur the lines between high school, college, and career and make sure every high school student graduates with college credit, access to career advising, experience in the workplace, and industry-sought credentials.
We invite you to join us to celebrate and give greater voice to the power of community colleges, which puts wings to dreams every day.