Spotlight on Community Colleges―Training the Next-Gen Workforce

Educating more than 12 million students each year, community colleges play a critical role in expanding post-secondary education opportunities. CP&M recently spoke with Richard Miller, FAIA, LEED-AP, BD+C, national higher education practice leader at Hoefer Wysocki, to learn more about the role of community colleges in training an employment-ready workforce.

Educating more than 12 million students each year, community colleges play a critical role in expanding post-secondary education opportunities. They offer high-quality degrees and certificates that provide critical pathways to thriving professional careers or four-year institutions for students seeking to transfer. During times of economic hardship, community colleges provide additional education and job skills training to individuals affected by unemployment, as reflected in enrollment trends during and after the Great Recession. These options are particularly indispensable for underserved and disadvantaged students, working adults, and students with family or employment responsibilities, enabling them to achieve their educational goals with affordable, flexible and accessible offerings.

CP&M recently spoke with Richard Miller, FAIA, LEED-AP, BD+C, national higher education practice leader at Hoefer Wysocki, to learn more about the role of community colleges in training an employment-ready workforce.

Q. What is the current role of community colleges and the maker movement in workforce preparation?
The role of the community college is continuously changing; they are no longer simply pathways to higher education or for vocational trades. These evolving campus ecosystems are increasingly shaped by the confluence of academic and business activities. Educational pathways that lead workforce development are being recalibrated to meet future demand for skills and talent, while curriculum strengthens ties between education and the workplace. As evidenced by the maker movement, a more self-directed, interactive approach to learning is occurring. This learner-centered model places emphasis on nontraditional, experiential settings that better reflect the world where students are headed, whether it be trade skills, career training, or a tech focus.

Q. How do early college programs factor in to this?
Early-college high schools are allowing students a dual credit path to earn an associate degree in addition to a diploma while in high school. Texas public education was one of the first to adopt extensive early-college programs, which have evolved to offer broad exposure to college-level coursework and, in some cases, career training. Today, post-secondary curricula are expanding rapidly throughout the country and offering facilities on the campuses of two-year colleges. Aside from providing a money-saving jump-start on college, these types of programs are preparing students for the rigors of college life and coursework as well as creating a “workplace learning” component in which students are taught interpersonal communication, collaboration, and public speaking skills.

Q. How are community colleges (and the facilities in which they reside) bridging the gaps in post-secondary education?
Bridging gaps in post-secondary education is transforming the future of education, especially when there is a common focus on workforce development and training. Community colleges are becoming a microcosm of society—diversity, age, culture, and professions. To design for a future state of education, we need to discover how we design for multi‐generational students—from ages 15-50 years. Tomorrow’s students believe in the power to choose and customize their experiences. They insist on authentic and multi‐disciplinary collaboration. Considering the wide-ranging economic impact and diversity of services that community colleges provide, it has become increasingly clear that a more holistic range of metrics is needed to help community colleges gauge their performance.

Today’s dynamic learning environment is flexible and multimodal. Collaboration is a driving theme of the space planning—inside and out. Walls are sparingly used; small-group breakout spaces can be created spontaneously with modular furniture arrangements and movable panels to minimize noise and visual distractions. The design of technology infrastructure optimizes speed, performance, mobility, connectivity, and security of learning spaces. For example, High Bay Build Labs provide greater interconnectivity and create real-world trades training. Alternatively, outdoor gathering spaces and learning yards provide opportunities for students to connect to nature and inspire them to continue the learning process outside the traditional classroom.

Campus ecosystems are increasingly shaped by the confluence of business and academic activities. I’m excited about the future of post-secondary education and the opportunity to both accommodate and influence new instructional methods and learning preferences through architectural and interior design.

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