Manufacturing a new Middle Class through Community Colleges

By Dora Smith

When I started school, my mom went back to school. She attended our local community college and completed an associate’s degree. She went on to complete a bachelor’s degree at that same college through an articulation agreement they had with a university an hour away. She later went on to complete a master’s degree – graduating as I was heading to college.

Many years have passed since mom began her higher education at a community college, but through work with technical community colleges this year, I have to say I’m more impressed than ever with what is happening on their campuses.

For every dollar that federal, state, and local taxpayers spent on America’s community colleges in 2012, society will receive a cumulative value of $25.90 over time.

That stat is from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), which recently held its annual conference.Our own Bill Boswell presented at the conference with two of our academic partners – Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and Iowa Western Community College ona “Closing the Skills Gap” panel.

Here is video summary with some of the highlights of the panel presentation:

At the event, AACC delivered an implementation guide titled “Empowering Community Colleges to Build the Nation’s Future.” The guide followed the organization’s 21st Century Initiative that set a goal to increase college completion rates by 50 percent by 2020. You can follow initiative at

The increased completion goal is aggressive. A U.S. Department of Education report found that just 18 percent of U.S. community colleges students graduate in three years. Schools point out many community college students attend part-time so a six-year outlook is more realistic – and others transfer to a four-year institution. The report noted that 72 percent of students with an associate’s degree earn a bachelor’s degree vs. 56 percent that leave without completing.

At the conference there were numerous discussions on ensuring the community college open door doesn’t become a revolving door.

AACC’s implementation guide provides examples of reverse transfer programs, including one in Texas that provides a mathematics pathway from developmental math through college stats. The Mathways project includes bridge courses to ensure seamless transitions to all 50 community colleges in the state. Texas also puts an emphasis on postsecondary readiness. It established a goal to be in the top 10 states for graduating college ready students with requirements outlined in House Bill 5.

Not all recommendations in the guide provided a specific metric. Yet the guide provides schools with specific actions, i.e. for the recommendation: “close the American skills gap.”

  1. Understand and communicate labor market trends – requires stronger employer engagement

  2. Develop career pathways – requires stackable, short-term programs and credentials.
    (We have been working with organizations like MassMEP and MACWIC in Massachusetts on similar pathways in advanced manufacturing.)

  3. Incorporate more work-based, hands-on and tech-rich leaning (internships, apprenticeships, projects and competitions)

  4. Deepen industry partnerships so education/training matches jobs

AACC also noted at the conference they are collaborating with the Khan academy to provide online options. It shows the system that is more than 100-years old is adapting to new technology and ways of learning.

community college collaboration
AACC panel included Bill Boswell, Siemens PLM Software, Dr. O’dell Owens, Cincinnati State, Dr. Dan Kinney, Iowa Western and Todd Cohen, AACC

Leading community colleges like Iowa Western and Cincinnati State are adapting and advancing design and manufacturing education through close working relationships with local industry.

Learn more at and engage your local community college today.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at