"Field Notes" is an occasional Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Wendolyn D. Davis, Ph.D., Assistant Director of Transfer Student Services, Central Michigan University
The National Governor’s Association addresses the need for workforce development by defining the concept as developing a “skilled and knowledgeable” workforce: “To achieve this, state workforce and education systems must be designed to provide the skilled workers employers need to thrive and the education and training individuals need to prosper in today's labor market.” (National Governors Association)
Workforce development has been a significant focus of community colleges for decades. It is a necessary concept towards providing employers a skilled set of employees to keep their businesses successful building the nation’s economy (The Changing Role of Community Colleges in Workforce Development, 2014; Vorreyer and Miller, 2015). Although the focus leans towards the student services provided in the community colleges setting, all academic institutions have a role in this concept. Therefore, students are educated, conferred degrees, and have the availability of career services – internships, co-ops, hands-on learning, job fairs, and the like. As this narrates the end goal, it may not seem that admissions would have a relative stake in workforce development. At the onset, it doesn’t, but understanding of the value of workforce development in community college settings can be beneficial in terms of recruiting transfer students.
Community colleges carry the weight of educating students who function at academically lower levels (Zinshteyn, 2016). This information is not new. We already know the additional impact of working with students requiring foundational, developmental or remedial coursework before they can move to degree applicable courses. Although pressed by decreasing enrollment rates and the shared highereducation intuitions’ requirement of published degree completion rates, community colleges may be charged with greater implementation of workforce development tactics at a faster pace to increase the likelihood that community college students gain the hard and soft skills necessary to become employable upon certificate completion and/or graduation should they choose not to earn a bachelor’s degree (Vorreyer and Miller, 2015).
The push for community colleges – enroll and graduate more students. The push for four-year-degree granting colleges and universities – enroll and graduate more students. Having the same goal from the same pool of degree seeking students intimates an imbalance when it comes to smoother transitions and transferability from 2 –year to 4-year institutions. Understanding aspects of workforce development can provide closer-to-equitable tools to meet the same goals successfully; a win/win scenario.
Prior to being an admissions professional, my career was in workforce development. Goals were inclusive of individual awareness of their attained knowledge, skills, and ability based on experience, increased soft skill development where needed, specific coursework to improve academic growth and the creation of a pathway to goal realization. The pathway was concrete. It provided a timeline, objectives to complete, steps to objective fruition, and defining funding resources. In the case of one program the pathway was developed, printed, signed by all involved parties, and diligently followed. It also served as a measurement tool of objective success. Something similar to Guided Pathways.
This is something beyond the traditional transfer guide. Most colleges and universities offer transfer guides as one tool to assist potential transfer students transitioning from their community college. In most cases the guide is not timeline specific and transfer students are faced with the challenge of determining course sequence from 2-year to 4-year sometimes with little academic advising, which decreases the possibility of graduating in a timely manner and at minimal cost. Cost being an additional obstacle for many transfer students who choose to begin their academic careers at a community college for financial reasons. To be transparent, I have not seen every transfer guide from every institution in the nation, so this is anecdotally speculative. Understanding the type of goal setting that exists in workforce development in terms of transferability at the 4-year institution level serves to benefit transfer students as a consumer where they are, allowing them to see the light at the end of the degree completion tunnel.
The ability to see a big picture from start to finish, with tangible knowledge of course equivalency and applicability suggests they will have a sense of confidence that they will not have many classes that lack degree or major applicability and will allow the student to see clearly when to transfer to the 4-year, which for some programs, should be sooner than completing their associate’s degree.
How does this all come together and what is next for transfer student services? The transfer student services part of admissions must continue its move towards innovative, creative and increased partnerships with community colleges by way of improved strategic use of bachelor degree developed pathways and a more strategic use of reverse transfer agreements to allow the community colleges to remain in the loop and to track degree completion rates of students who may have transitioned to a 4- year institution and should allow more students to consider their potential to earn a baccalaureate degree.
How does this happen? Help me find 40 more hours per week along with a balanced life and I will be able to tell you. This is the beginning of my contemplation surrounding the "how," combining my own experience to benefit students and institutions, alike. I hope to have multiple discussions with higher educational institution partners surrounding how we can work together to meet the needs of the students first followed by the needs of each institution.