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 underrepresented 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 identified community colleges with exemplary track records of offering successful, equitable programs that can help students learn, graduate and advance to well-paying jobs, and examined their policies and practices. Aspen used that information to develop a new publication, “The Workforce Playbook: A Community College Guide to Delivering Excellent Career and Technical Education” (see sidebar). Based on practices of 30 high-performing community colleges, the playbook outlines four key strategies: advancing a vision for talent development; delivering high-quality, relevant programs; taking intentional action to support students throughout their postsecondary journey; and developing mutually beneficial partnerships with employers.

We believe this playbook will enable colleges to help more students graduate with the right skills and credentials to build rewarding careers. To that end, we made an additional $1.1 million grant to Aspen to incorporate the playbook in the guided pathways framework, a collection of evidence-based practices colleges are using to redesign their students’ experiences.


Contact Senior Program Officer Toya Wall at