At a time when national leaders are looking to America’s more than 1,200 community colleges to help fuel an economic transformation, a new report from our colleagues at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) spotlights both great opportunities and serious challenges ahead.

Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future details community college “student success rates that are unacceptably low, employment preparation that is inadequately connected to job-market needs, and disconnections in transitions between high schools, community colleges, and baccalaureate institutions.” Considering the national imperative to add 20 million postsecondary educated workers over the next 15 years, these are serious indictments for higher education institutions tasked with preparing a globally competitive workforce and ones to which employers look for the next generation of talent.

Corporate Voices for Working Families commends AACC and its 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges for recommending a new vision for America’s community colleges.  Our corporate partners share the commitment to “Reclaiming the American Dream”. To be sure, U.S. employers have much at stake in the success of community colleges and the students they are educating for the workforce of tomorrow. Moreover, employers can—indeed, must—be a part of the solution, by helping to ensure that college coursework aligns with the knowledge and skills they require of their new employees, and by helping working students juggle the demands of school and their job.

As part of its “Learn and Earn” micro business case study series, Corporate Voices has documented a range of best practice talent development partnerships between businesses and education providers – frequently community colleges.  These Learn and Earn models help bridge the skills gap for employers, while encouraging and/or supporting current and future employees’ attainment of postsecondary credentials with labor market value – the most significant benchmark for achieving economic sustainability. Learn and Earn partnerships also provide real returns for these leading companies.

For example, AREVA, a global company that provides services, fuel, and engineering support to nuclear plants worldwide, partners withCentralVirginiaCommunity College on an Employee Training Program that produces graduates with an Associate Degree in Nuclear Support Technology.  These highly skilled, high-wage positions make a significant contribution to the centralVirginia regional economy, and supply a high-quality, entry-level talent pipeline to the employer in a fairly rural region.

In another Learn and Earn model, Bright Horizons Family Solutions LLC, the world’s leading provider of employer-sponsored child care, early education, and work/life solutions, created a blended e-training program to help teachers acquire a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. Through the company’s partnership withNorthamptonCommunity College inPennsylvania, Bright Horizons’ 18,000 employees around the country can enroll in the college’s online associate degree program, and have 9 academic credits honored from the CDA toward an associate degree. For Bright Horizons, the program is a win-win: Not only has it increased the quality of early child care services provided at its centers, but the credential is also viewed as a major contributing factor in reducing the company’s employee turnover rate by more than 50 percent.

Education-and-business partnerships like these create a model for ways in which community colleges can meet student success targets in connection with their regional labor markets.  Corporate Voices’ publication, Business and Community College Partnerships: A Blueprint, is a tool that helps guide the formation of these partnerships.  It is available at no charge on our website.

Corporate Voices agrees with AACC President and CEO, Walter Bumphus, who acknowledges that individual colleges have demonstrated success, but said, “We haven’t done a [great] job of replicating these practices across the country.”  Corporate Voices and its employer partners stand ready to join community colleges to replicate best practices like Learn and Earn, and support this initiative to “Reclaim the American Dream.”