A District that Needs a Community College

By March 5, 2008Education and Training

Washington Post business columnist Steven Perlstein is right — and how often do we say that? — in identifying a real need for an institution providing community college-type education in Washington, D.C., currently underserved and misserved by the University of the District of Columbia. From “UDC is a School to Retool“:

To put it bluntly, the District doesn’t need — and probably can’t support — a quality land-grant university. Its population is too small and its tax base too narrow. Most of its public school graduates are unprepared to do college-level work. And the most pressing need of its businesses and its unemployed residents is for an effective teaching machine that can make up for the deficiencies of the public school system and train its residents for the tens of thousands of “middle skill” jobs offered by the regional economy.

In other words, what the District needs is a community college.

We write a lot about the “skills gap” because of the high demand for skilled employees in the manufacturing sector. However, the district’s manufacturing base is tiny enough that a refocused UDC would be unlikely to develop as many close ties between industry and vocational education as do other institutions.

That said, an emphasis on acquiring skills demanded by the local economy would certainly serve the citizens — and taxpayers — of the District better than UDC’s current approach.

Perlstein notes ongoing discussions about education in the district, including work by the Brookings Institution, and anticipates…

I suspect UDC may wind up as the administrative and political umbrella for a collection of programs aimed at training workers for specific industries — a teachers college, a school of nursing and health sciences, a technology campus and so forth. Each would have its own campus, its own faculty and its own advisory board drawn from local employers. Programs would be designed as much around internships, apprenticeships and computer-based learning as around traditional classroom instruction.

Sounds like a good approach.

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