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Guided Pathways

The City's College: Impact 2025

The Future of Community College of Philadelphia

As Community College of Philadelphia transitions from its first 50 years into the next, an appreciation for the historical impact the College has had on the city is important for an understand­ing of its future. In 50 years, the number of Community College of Philadelphia enrollees approaches 700,000 with nearly 55,000 receiving a degree.

Diverse program offerings have prepared countless students for the job market, and thousands of students have transferred to top tier colleges and universities. Some of the successes of the College’s graduates are legendary. Yet, along with those grand stories of student success are countless more stories of alumni finding gainful employ­ment and contributing to the life of their families and communities. Helping those suffering under the weight of economic and social despair is at the heart of the College’s mission, but for the College to build on that legacy and maintain its rightful place as a premier institution of higher education, it must strengthen its traditional focus while embracing the challenges put forth by new realities.

Foremost will be the continued commitment to access. Beyond the traditional definition of open admissions, the new reality, and extended definition, must include an absolute commitment to helping students succeed and complete. Opening the doors is a fraction of what it means to provide access. Not providing the means for students to succeed beyond pre-college or remedial courses only perpetuates an illusion of access. Students must be prepared to succeed; they must have the support to succeed; and they must have a purpose for succeeding. Failure to encompass those three important elements into conversations about access reduces the concept to an empty promise.

Beyond issues of access and completion, the 21st century economy demands a highly trained and skilled workforce. Job-related training is costly and comes at a time when the public dollars are not keeping pace with the cost of expensive equipment and specialized instruction. Competition for students has never been stronger; public-support financing continues to wane; and costs associated with salaries and health care are on the rise. The original commitment to share the burden of revenue between the state, the local funder and students has been distorted — resulting in students bearing the largest portion of the burden (60% at the College). This challenge of keeping the College affordable while providing the best possible education is formidable and requires a new way of thinking. We must break from the mold that perpetuates the image of a college that is a second, last or an only choice — and become a college that is the first choice because it is a world-class institution that delivers a top-notch education.

The programs of study must reflect 21st century realities; and our enrollment should reflect the size and the scope of the city we serve. When employers make decisions about their workforce needs, Community College of Philadelphia should be their first choice for intellectually talented and highly skilled individuals. The corollary to a skilled workforce is an enlightened citizenry positively impacting crime and poverty in city neighborhoods. Through service learning and civic engagement, the College curriculum can be tightly woven through the experiences of the students’ lives and the problems of their communities. As a large urban college, this curricular approach will stand as a model to other big city colleges around the country. Among its peers, Community College of Philadelphia will be recognized as an institution that levels the playing field, improves communities, retains and graduates its students, and fuels the local and regional economy. The benchmarks upon which the College will be measured are established and recognized by the Aspen Institute. Those standards are universally accepted by the nation’s two-year colleges and provide understandable measures for developing into a first-class institution.

For many, this vision of becoming a world-class institution is far reaching. Yet, it is very doable. It’s a vision that will inspire. It can be a reflection of the added value the College provides to the life of the city that is unmatched by the assembly of higher education institutions in Philadelphia. Whether the students’ beginnings are characterized by a lack of academic or economic preparation and/or a need for a second chance, Community College of Philadelphia is the only college in Philadelphia that can bridge that gap for the least among us at an affordable cost. Achieving elite status among community colleges encourages support from donors, from national organizations looking to community colleges for solutions to the nation’s economic and social problems and, perhaps equally important, elite status raises the morale of the community, the students, faculty and staff and encourages further success.

An Uncompromising Focus on Student Success

The research is clear: A purposeful College-wide curriculum; quality teaching; engaged pedagogy; and organized, proactive support services will foster student success. Fundamentally, classroom teaching is the single most important factor to the success of students. While the discipline-focus is important, each discipline is linked in a holistic manner to a broader context. The desired scope and sequence is to be properly balanced to support the core content areas with the general education skill and knowledge expectations. Students will acquire a deeper understanding of their chosen field of study and the world around them, and they will become problem solvers and critical thinkers. With a faculty fully engaged in the life and needs of our students and their communities, we have the ability to fully impact the social and economic landscape of Philadelphia. Through civic engagement and service learning, faculty will blend the work of the classroom with the needs and the life experiences of the students and their communities. This will extend the meaning of a community college beyond that of a college located in a certain place, to that of a college that impacts communities with an organic and relevant curriculum.

As students move from one class to the next, they will be subject to an environment that reinforces the lessons of the classroom. This environment will be part of a social and learning environment that encourages academic success through networking and peer motivation. Through counseling and advise­ment, tutorial support and student life, the alignment will be deliberate and focused on the students’ end goal — graduation. The College will create guided pathways for all students from the point of initial contact through graduation.

A Primary Role in Workforce Development, Readiness and Economic Innovation

Developing a 21st century workforce is key to the continued success of Philadelphia. The current renaissance must extend to those who are either unemployed or underemployed. The economy has evolved to the point where traditional employment opportunities for those with a high school education, or some college, are far apart and few between, and rarely pay a livable wage. The modern economy requires mid- to high-level technical skills, good communication skills, competent computational skills, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, and workforce-readiness skills. Additionally, some growth sectors — energy, health care, hospitality and manufacturing — are in need of skills specific to those industries.

The school-wide framework for our workforce development initiatives will include credit and noncredit courses and programs. This blended curriculum approach enables students to move immediately, and seamlessly, into employment opportunities with short- and long-term certificates and/or build stackable credentials that allow them to parlay workforce credits and credentials into an academic degree. In some instances, the curriculum alignment will be integrated by blending the general education learning objectives with the technical objectives of the workforce training. The national model for such an approach is referred to as the IBEST model (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training). The model was developed in the state of Washington and has been implemented across the country. The Community College Resource Center conducted extensive research on the outcomes of program participants and found higher success rates, higher completion rates and higher starting incomes. Overall outcomes to this integrated approach were positive. This macro-curriculum approach, or school-wide approach, is concerned about the whole student.

Finally, it is important that the College’s response to a workforce need or any particular business be quick and flexible. Businesses and industries are seeking partners capable of providing a workforce in a manner consistent with the need and speed of their business cycles.

A redesigned career placement office will offer developmental and educational services to students exploring their interests, but also, the center will provide placement services for internships, cooperative education opportunities and job placements. This guided pathways approach impresses upon students the need to establish a career and to think about the manner in which they expect to achieve their career goals. Where possible, the relationships between employers and faculty will serve as the bridge between the educational experience and the professional world of work.

The business and industry communities will come to see Community College of Philadelphia as the go-to institution for job training. Consistent with the expectations of the new federal workforce rules (WIOA), the College will position itself as an institution capable of providing job and career training for the 21st century economy. We must be acutely aware of the developing job markets, while continuing to build on our capacity to provide high-quality training in the existing and more traditional markets. Much of the funding for our workforce development efforts will come through partnerships with businesses or the industry sectors. A trained workforce is fundamental to a company’s bottom line, and we should position ourselves to serve the company’s interests while providing employment opportunities for the citizens we serve. Community College of Philadelphia will be uniquely qualified to provide precision training while at the same time developing much desired soft skills — critical thinking, communication, problem solving — to ensure employers are getting a trained worker and a valued employee.

The solutions to the workforce needs of this city have to include innovation and entrepreneurship. Building on the success of 10,000 Small Businesses, we can isolate the entrepreneurial spirit that fosters business success for established businesses and apply that spirit and knowhow to those at the bottom of the workforce spectrum. Business start-ups must be part of the solution. Helping people identify and develop business opportunities can spread the economy into neighborhoods that are desolate and off the economic grid. Among those populations of hard-to-employ citizens are the reentry population. The 26% poverty rate of the city will never improve without consideration for the formerly incarcerated and the ability to create an economy in areas of the city that have been abandoned. This will require innovation to inspire, create and fund.

Finally, in a competitive job market, the qualification demands from employers are increasing. It is becoming more the norm that the technical fields that have required associate degrees are now requiring bachelor degrees. For example, many hospitals now require a bachelor’s degree in Nursing. The same is true for many of the mid-tech fields that were previously filled by technicians with an associate’s degree. These changes are the emerging issues impacting the core mission of the two-year college: access and workforce development. Too often, the cost for transferring to a four-year institution is cost prohibitive and entrance requirements are competitive. The time has come for Community College of Philadelphia to consider offering bachelor degrees for select programs. Doing so strengthens the commitment to fulfilling the workforce needs while keeping the doors of opportunity open and at an affordable cost. The side benefits to the College would be increased enrollment, retention and graduation rates, and revenue. At this writing, 22 states are providing bachelor degrees at two-year colleges. The list includes California and Florida.

External and Internal Community Relations

Our strength depends on solid relationships with institutions and organizations across the city. Our most important relationship will continue to be with the public school district. Creating programmatic alignments with the public schools will enable us to build a foundation for academic success for entering Community College of Philadelphia students. Ensuring their readiness for the rigors of college instruction reduces the need for remediation and increases student persistence. With the 50th Anniversary Scholars Program as an incentive, we can create guided pathways for students as early as their freshman and sophomore years. Understanding who our students are prior to arriving at the doorway of the College enables us to assess their readiness for college; it allows us to construct program elements around student strengths and abilities; and it fosters confidence within our community that we are working in conjunction with the public school system to further the educational needs of their children and citizens.

More than a third of our students are adults. As such, fostering relationships with institutions beyond the school district — hospitals, houses of worship, employment agencies, business and industry, private schools, community organizations — strengthens our credibility as a community educational and training resource, and serves our enrollment interests. Community reputation and prestige are key elements in our ability to attract students.

Our regional centers will become regional hubs for the communities they serve. They should create their own identity by providing for the immediate needs and interests of the communities they serve. Where possible, they will become standalone campuses. This place-based strategy will work to identify key partners in the local communities to work toward local education and training solutions to local challenges.

In addition to existing facilities, the College should consider expanding into areas that are either underserved or areas that represent an opportunity for leveraging existing economic and community growth. The Navy Yard would be an example where economic growth can be leveraged to provide education or job training; and South Philadelphia, which serves a large immigrant population, is an example of an underserved community.

Internally, the faculty, administration, trustees and all of our funding supporters should work in as harmonious a way as possible to ensure the success of our students and the long-term success of the institution.

World-class Facilities

World-class facilities convey an image of competence, quality and credibility. Each is key to the attraction and recruitment of students and potential donors. World-class facilities create the image of an institution that is first class, and send a strong message to the donor community and to all those interested in engaging or supporting the mission of the College. This speaks to a vision that is forward thinking and will lead the College into the next 50 years.

When students are deciding on a college, the physical layout and condition of the campus is their first impression and often the most lasting. It is often the case that a student’s impression about how the school values them is rooted in the condition of the buildings, classrooms, labs and common areas.

The learning environment is enhanced when students have access to state-of-the-art facilities and equipment. When inspired by the environment, students are more willing to stay on campus for events, create study groups among classmates or just spend more time there — all important out-of-class learning experiences. Too often and for many of our students, the school environment is a relief from the depressed environments in which they live. The physical environment helps our students draw a distinction between the lives they are living and the life they aspire. This reinforces their motivation and inspires them to success.

Fiscal Stability and Sustainability

It is essential that the College develop a strategy and plan for achieving financial stability for the foreseeable future and long term financial growth.

The original community college model was a fallacy and the new realities require colleges to be strategic about their fiscal goals, and to think about creative solutions that will lessen the burden on students and lessen the reliance on public financing. The College must be more entrepreneurial in the ways in which it can raise revenue while containing and reducing expenses.

Enrollment growth is key. Our current penetration rate of 2% is far below the average for similar colleges. Expanding and diversifying our program offerings will generate new markets. Among those targeted will be international students. The historical nature of Philadelphia, coupled with its newly acquired status as a World Heritage City, will uniquely position the College to take full advantage of the international market. At the same time, efforts to increase private giving will increase when the College distinguishes itself as a premier institution. Private giving will be a significant part of our growth strategy. And then finally, carefully structured online course and program offerings will allow us to expand existing markets and expand our offerings beyond the region. For each initiative, carefully researched and closely aligned marketing will be essential elements.

Institutional effectiveness: focus, execution and outcomes will be the hallmarks of our operations. We will be data driven with carefully prescribed methods for carrying out the goals of this vision. Our success will require focus, execution and an ability to define our accomplishments with measurable outcomes.