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EDUCATION PHILANTHROPY DIVISION OF ASCENDIUM EDUCATION GROUP

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Newsletter Article May 26, 2022

Diverse Group Works to Strengthen Pathways at Michigan Community Colleges

The Michigan Community College Association (MCCA), through its Michigan Center for Student Success, has been leading a statewide initiative aimed at improving labor market and transfer outcomes for learners pursuing workforce training programs at community colleges. Supported by Ascendium, the Strengthening MiWorkforce Pathways Project aims to build stronger and more equitable pathways to and through community college workforce programs for learners from low-income backgrounds. We envision that when those pathways are strengthened, learners have an increased chance of achieving a degree or credential, finding a good job and/or successfully transferring to a baccalaureate program to continue their education.

As part of this initiative, community college leaders across Michigan’s 28 campuses have been engaged in exploratory workshops over the past year. These workshops have been a great opportunity to hear from experts across the country on four project strategies that aim to improve workforce program design, support colleges in their recognition of industry recognized credentials, help colleges build transfer pathways to a bachelor’s degree and expand the capacity for timely advising interventions.

Community college leaders at all levels, from presidents and chief academic officers to faculty, transfer specialists and advising staff, have been enthusiastic about their participation in the project. Stakeholders from K-12, workforce development and economic development have also shown interest in the strategies discussed.

“It’s been a really terrific way to leverage national experts in the work, but to also allow our colleges to engage with each other after hearing from those experts,” said Erica Orians, executive director of the Michigan Center for Student Success.

Kristin Carey Li, project manager in the Institutional Effectiveness Office at Oakland Community College (OCC), echoed Orians’ thoughts on convening leaders to hear ideas and offer input in terms of supports that can benefit the whole system of community colleges in Michigan.

“Our ability to come together through these convenings and help create new resources to support our work and student success is so valuable, and I really appreciate the opportunities these conversations provide,” she said. “For our goals at OCC, the sessions of the Strengthening MiWorkforce Pathways project have been very beneficial in terms of discussing best practices and learning from our peers.”

For Kimberly Hurns, executive vice president for instruction and academic services at Washtenaw Community College, being able to look at the data and connect it visually in a meaningful way to the programs offered at her community college has been helpful. The workshops have also solidified for her the idea of the community college being more responsive to industry and having more alignment with local workforce needs.

“I would like to see us have more learned and earned relationships with our industries,” she said. “The relationships are really intertwined between the learner and the industry. We can support the learner with a good pathway and a piece of paper to go along with it.”

“These outcomes past completion, as it relates to employment, need to be sustainable for students as well,” she added. “I hope to be part of the growing conversation and I’m looking forward for us to do more from an innovative standpoint.”

Both Carey Li and Hurns agree their colleges always have a trusted partner in the Michigan Center for Student Success. Whether the Center is serving as a facilitator of best practices, hosting round tables to bring leaders together or providing assistance to faculty, their base line is always student success.

“Their advocacy, student-centered focus and accessible work elevates the conversation and helps transform our institutions to better serve our students and communities,” Carey Li said.

Interested in learning more about this initiative and the strategies shared? Each workshop was recorded by MCCA and is available at no cost to watch on their MiWorkforce Pathways YouTube channel. From college presidents to faculty, these videos are great resources for all leaders at community colleges interested in strengthening workforce pathways and improving outcomes for learners from low-income backgrounds.

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