The role of Jamaican community colleges in economic recovery
Cebert Adamson, GUEST COLUMNIST
As governments at all levels contemplate cuts and reset priorities to make ends meet, one reality needs to be front and centre: support for economic recovery is paramount.
Not all government expenditures are alike.
Our policymakers should focus on enriching those areas that have proven they can help get us out of the current recession and back to economic prosperity and local job growth.
A study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in the United States found that "by 2018, we will need 22 million new workers with college degrees - but will fall short of that number by at least three million post-secondary degrees ... . At a time when every job is precious, this shortfall will mean lost economic opportunity for millions of American workers".
United States President Barack Obama, in his January 24 State of the Union address, spoke emphatically of the need to train persons in skills necessary for economic development, and the role of the community colleges.
So committed and assured of the role of community colleges in the process of economic recovery is the president of the US, the White House in October 2010 held its first summit on community colleges, chaired by Dr Jill Biden, wife of the vice president and a former community college professor.
It is important that as Jamaicans we understand and agree that the only way our country can move beyond our current economic difficulties is to allow people to achieve their career potential, therefore expanding job growth and our national and regional economies.
With these changes, our GDP grows, our tax base expands, and recovery is possible.
What, therefore, is the dependable path to economic recovery? I believe that this question has been asked by many and on many occasions.
I respectfully submit that the main answer lies in National Outcome 2 of the Vision 2030 Development Plan, where Jamaicans are empowered to achieve their fullest potential through a world-class education and training system.
As is being postulated across the US, I want to argue that the community colleges in Jamaica continue to support this vision and are constantly working on strategies to enhance Jamaica's development.
Community colleges are strategically located across the country, covering approximately 97 per cent of the country. There are currently five community colleges and three multidisciplinary colleges offering a range of programmes, from continuing education, community- based training and education and professional programmes - associate and bachelor's degrees - covering a wide range of disciplines.
An anecdotal study shows that every dollar invested in community colleges eventually returns more to the country in tax dollars and new opportunities.
This is seen in the number of graduates who are employed upon completion of their programme of study, the number who reportedly are promoted on the job, and many who migrate to fill job opportunities.
Consider these examples of the extraordinary return on investment we have come to expect from community colleges:
More than ever, people are going to community colleges to qualify for jobs.
Enrolment in community colleges over the past two years has increased by approximately 18 per cent, representing students seeking job skills and an education to make them more competitive in the current job market.
This increase in enrolment is not only attributed to the lower tuition fees when compared to other training institutions, but to the high quality, applied nature of the programmes, top-quality service culture and the nurturing environment of the campuses, just to name a few of the excellent support services that have come to define community colleges.
In astonishing numbers, workers go to community colleges to retool for job improvement.
Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of graduates who come back to community colleges to acquire skills that are necessary for the work world.
Growth areas like hospitality, tourism and entertainment, nursing, teacher education, business and information technology rely on community colleges to supply qualified workers to meet the growing needs and changes in the market.
Given community colleges' cutting-edge faculties, and developing state-of-the-art facilities, graduates from the various programmes are provided with employability skills that allow them to literally 'hit the ground running.
This is based on the fact that every community college associate and bachelor's degree graduate is required to do a minimum of 240 hours on industry placement, which may either be locally, regionally, or internationally.
Employers who participate in this process have given high marks to the programme. In fact, many of the students are subsequently employed to the organisations at which they did the internship.
Community colleges continue to boast in excess of 10,000 students.
It is my recommendation that the powers that be increase the subvention provided to community colleges and the agency with specific responsibility for curriculum development, assessment, and awarding of certification.
I further submit that each member of both the Upper and the Lower Houses should support all moves to provide these additional funds as they have far-reaching effects.
A community college education is affordable, of high quality, and aims to improve lives. It is no doubt that the mission of community colleges is to respond to today's challenges, creating tomorrow's opportunities by promoting intellectual discovery, entrepreneurial skills, social and ethical awareness, and economic opportunities for all through education that transforms lives, builds communities and improves society locally and internationally.
Now is the time for our elected officials to sustain the proven path to economic recovery and provide the opportunity that members of our community deserve.
Cebert Adamson is executive director of the Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org