The Uncertain Future of the Community College Workforce Development Mission

Although policymakers and the public see workforce development as a fundamental mission of community colleges, it faces an uncertain future because of structural changes in the economy and the emergence of new competitors. These developments have produced a quiet crisis in workforce development and have resulted in divergent proposals for what directions it should take.

Currently, two somewhat contradictory positions are being advocated. On the one hand, proponents of a new vocationalism argue that community colleges should prepare individuals for high-tech jobs in computer technologies, teaching, and health care. On the other hand, some advocate a renewed focus on meeting the needs of low-income workers: inner-city residents, new immigrants, and those displaced from traditional middle-class jobs because their manufacturing plants have closed.

This article explores the evolution of the workforce development role of the community college, its interactions with other missions of the college, and the current crisis facing workforce development.

This article appeared in New Directions for Community Colleges, issue 136.