15 community colleges to split $20m US grant
Workforce training is targeted
The federal government will give the 15 Massachusetts community colleges $20 million to increase workforce training programs in industries facing a shortage of technically skilled employees.
The colleges have pledged to focus on biotechnology, information technology, health care, advanced manufacturing, clean energy, and financial services for small businesses.
“This is a significant and unprecedented accomplishment for our community college system,’’ Education Secretary Paul Reville said in a statement. “In many ways, the community colleges are a linchpin of our workforce development system, and this grant will accelerate our efforts to implement an ambitious job creation agenda.’’
The award is part of a nationwide grant program announced yesterday that will funnel $500 million to community colleges in every state to help retrain the unemployed, especially those whose jobs have moved overseas.
The Massachusetts share of the grants is among the highest; only Hawaii and Virginia will receive more than $20 million.
“We’re still trying to verify this, but we think it’s the largest grant for community colleges from an external source ever,’’ said Bill Hart, deputy director of the Massachusetts Community Colleges Executive Office. “And what we plan to do with it is really going to transform the way we deliver education.’’
The schools have not yet decided how to allocate the money, and each is expected to use their share differently.
Some general themes are clear in their proposals. Many colleges are planning to create online programming intended to get students up to speed in new fields more quickly than conventional classroom instruction allows. “These are folks who may have been unemployed for a year or more,’’ said Hart. “We know we can do something for them in a quicker period of time that will give them new skill sets.’’
Some of the schools are also working with employers to design new curricula that teach basic principles in the context of specific industries, teaching math, for instance, in concrete ways that might be useful to health care professionals.
Joanne Goldstein, the state’s secretary of labor and workforce development, said she hoped the grants would make a difference for workers quickly, though she stressed the need to spend the money wisely.
“The sooner we can train people, the sooner they get into the workforce or go into a better job, so obviously we’d like to do it sooner rather than later,’’ she said. “Having said that, I don’t think any of us are in a rush to do it haphazardly, because we’re trying to create jobs that are sustainable.’’
Workforce alignment has been a major priority for public higher education in the last few years. Several state departments are already working together to help colleges train students in fields where job opportunities are growing.
“We think having collaboration between education, industry, and the workforce is the absolute right way to move the economy forward,’’ Goldstein said. “The governor has really created a team to address these issues in a way that just has not been done before and frankly is not necessarily done in most states.’’
But with state funding for higher education on the decline, piecing together a coordinated effort across campuses has been challenging.
The new grant could provide a jumpstart, said Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council.
“This is good news for workers displaced by changes in the economy, and for community college programming in general,’’ Sullivan said.
Mary Carmichael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.