Students enroll in community college with the belief that higher education will put them on the path to a rewarding career with a living wage, but many graduates find themselves unprepared to perform lucrative jobs that are waiting to be filled. The problem is most acute for students of color, first-generation students and students from low-income backgrounds, because fewer of these students have historically enrolled in academic programs with high labor market value.


When community colleges build strong partnerships with employers and develop high-value academic programs that align with labor market demand, it can pay off for graduates and fuel regional economic growth. But too many programs fall short of that goal—especially when it comes to traditionally underserved students. To help more colleges better connect their academic programs with rewarding employment opportunities for students of all backgrounds, we committed $368,000 to support a project by the Aspen Institute's College Excellence Program in 2017.

Aspen has identified six community colleges with exemplary track records of offering successful, equitable programs that can help students learn, graduate and advance to well-paying jobs.

After a thorough evaluation of these colleges' policies and practices, Aspen is developing easy-to-use tools to help other schools strengthen employer collaborations and make changes at the institutional and program levels. Aspen also plans to share its findings with the field by convening college leaders, workforce experts, employers and members of the higher education reform community.

Aspen has begun field testing a labor market playbook across their network of community college practitioners and partners and is on track to share it with the field in early 2019. While this research has focused on the community college sector, we believe Aspen’s insights could have much broader applicability. We are eager to learn the secrets of success for aligning degree programs with labor market demands so that students from all backgrounds graduate with the right skills to build rewarding careers.


Contact Senior Program Officer Toya Wall at