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Apodaca: Initiative aims to reinvent community colleges

April 12, 2014|By Patrice Apodaca

I've written frequently about the shift toward matching education with job-market demand, a trend that continues to gain momentum.

Whether this change produces a winning record overall depends largely on the effectiveness of individual initiatives just now taking wing.

One of the more intriguing of those experiments is a new California initiative to coordinate for the first time all 112 community colleges throughout the state in an attempt to better align curricula with the most sought-after skills.

This undertaking is being funded by the five-year, $60-million "Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy" program, which seeks to identify key high-growth industries, determine what good-paying jobs are available within those sectors, and then adjust areas of study to serve that demand.

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"It's very practical," said Steven Glyer, who chairs the Los Angeles-Orange County region, the largest of seven regional consortia established under the program. "But it's hard to do."

Glyer might be familiar to Daily Pilot readers. He formerly directed Newport-Mesa Unified's career-technical education (CTE), which he felt so passionate about that he returned to the district to lead the department even after his formal retirement.

Now his un-retirement continues as he takes on this huge, complex job designed to steer community colleges toward producing highly skilled, desirable workers.

Of course, community colleges can make the case that this has been their mission all along, but this new effort to align them more closely with the needs of the marketplace, if successful, would mark a sea change in the way these schools have traditionally operated.

In short, community colleges are not accustomed to collaborating on a wide scale. In Orange County alone there are four college districts, within which there are many schools with varying governing structures and widely disparate rules and policies. Now they're being asked to reach an unprecedented level of cooperation.

The initiative's aims are also complicated by the sheer enormity of the task, which involves not just coordinating the schools but also enlisting input from industry, government agencies and a vast array of independent entities with stakes in the outcome.

In the first year of the program, Glyer said his main focus has been on identifying all the key players, introducing them to the concept and structuring ways to get all these groups communicating.

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