Community College Workforce Development for a Work World that is Still Racist


According to Larry Warford, consultant with the League for Innovation in the Community College, the term “workforce development” has “become a generic term that is more often than not associated strictly with vocational and technical skills training” (Lorenzo, 2013, p.5). What is consistent is that the term refers to preparing community college students for the workforce in a way the college deems satisfactory. What remains virtually non-existent is a workforce development model where local and national employers are engaged with students in creating guidelines and expectations from both the employee and employee. One of the major practical issues involved in workforce preparedness by the community college is the lack of national conversation around workplace inequality that exists. As long as workplace inequality, particularly, the first step of hiring, goes unacknowledged by learning institutions, we will continue to educate students who will not be hired when they graduate based on racial or gender identifiers, despite being qualified and credentialed for the job.

One of the most popular workforce development models being implemented around the country is the model called Guided Pathways. Guided Pathways places students in job pathways that dictate the courses they take from start to the end of their matriculation. Colleges that implement a Guided Pathways model are able to identify positive measureable outcomes early-on in the areas of retention, student morale and graduation rates. In the five years since implementation of Guided Pathways at Miami-Dade College in Florida experienced an “eight-point surge in retention rates for students with assigned advisors, providing significantly positive revenue implications for subsequent terms” (Jameson-Meledy, 2016).

At the City University of New York (CUNY), the largest urban university system in the United States, the Guided Pathways program used is called the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) initiative and has resulted in “a graduation rate three times the national average for urban community colleges” (“Guided Pathways: Improving Completion”, 2016).  Guttman Community College, part of the CUNY system, has documented that 35% of its students, compared to an average of 13% for other community colleges in larger cities, are more likely to graduate within a three-year goal utilizing the Guided Pathways model (“Guided Pathways: Improving Completion”, 2016). “By August 2014, 28 percent of Guttman’s inaugural 2012 entering class had completed an associate degree” (“What We Know About Guided Pathways, 2015, p. 6).

Queensborough Community College, another CUNY school, gathered qualitative data to assess student response to the new implementation. Data indicated that students reported that their chosen pathway—called an academy—gave them a sense of membership and belonging as a student and helped them better map out their college and professional career (Jenkins & Cho, 2014).

However, while the research indicated that the Guided Pathways model provides structure and convenience to counter a possible overwhelming offering of courses, the impact of this model on students being more apt to find employment in comparison is still forthcoming. With mounting research being done in the area of employment discrimination finding that discrimination still exists, colleges are behind in preparing students of color with the reality that despite education, training and a degree, finding employment will still be more challenging in comparison to white students.

In 2004, researchers Bertrand and Mullainathan (Elejalde-Ruiz, 2016) found that employers were more apt to call back applicants with traditionally white first names. They sent about 5,000 resumes to 1,300 job advertisements in Boston and Chicago. The white names got 50 percent more callbacks than the black names, regardless of industry or occupation (Elejalde-Ruiz, 2016).

While this study is only a beginning to a growing interest in assessing the climate of racial equity in the workplace, during the hiring process and the work experience, what is necessary is the acknowledgment of racial bias in the community college conference rooms planning workforce development programming for their student populations. If it is challenging to have authentic conversation and acknowledge research-based evidence demonstrating it is more difficult for students of color to find employment in comparison to white students, then no workforce development program, on its own, will sufficiently impact job placement success much at all for  black students found in higher proportion in many community colleges across the country.



Elejalde-Ruiz, A. (2016). Hiring bias study: Resumes with black, white, Hispanic names treated the same.  The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from

Guided Pathways: Improving completion and showing students the way to success, Vol. 6, issue 1. (2016) Retrieved form

Jameson-Meledy, K. (2016). Structured college pathways. Citrus College Institute for Completion (IFC) Research Brief, No. 5. Retrieved frpm  

Jenkins, D & Cho, S. (2014) Get with the program…and finish it: Building guided pathways to accelerate student completion. Retrieved from Miami Dade College History. (n.d.). Miami Dade Fact Book Web Links. Retrieved from  

Lorento, G. (Date, 2013). The state of workforce development initiatives at America’s community colleges. The Source on Community College Issues, Trends,  & Strategies. Retrieved from

What we know about Guided Pathways. (2016). Community College Research Center. Retrieved  from


Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a doctoral student at Morgan State University in the Higher Education/Community College Leadership Development Program. She is founder of So Our Youth Aspire (SOYA), Liberated Muse Arts Group and the College Media Arts and Communication Association. . She can be reached at



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