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Report Lays out Role of Community Colleges in Building 'Green' Workforce

Community colleges are positioning themselves to become the launch pad for a new wave of graduates pursuing "green" careers in fields as diverse as efficient transport, smart buildings, energy storage and climate-change habitat restoration projects. A new report from Jobs for the Future and the National Wildlife Federation offers recommendations for how those programs can be scaled to reach 20 million students with "sustainability knowledge" and skills by 2025. Jobs for the Future is a nonprofit focused on helping people with lower incomes gain skills and credentials for college and career success. The National Wildlife Federation is a conservation organization.

The new report is being circulated on the heels of COP21, an international sustainability forum in Paris, where representatives from 195 countries committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement signed there includes regular reviews in each country to monitor progress on climate plans.

According to "Greenprint: A Plan To Prepare Community College Students for Careers in the Clean Economy," the changes inherent in addressing climate challenges has ignited creation of a "clean economy," which requires a workforce with new or enhanced skills "to develop environmentally beneficial goods and services."

An outcome of this new economy is "economic mobility" for lower-skilled adults with the right training. That's where community colleges come in. Many of the "middle skill jobs" in the clean economy require more than a high school education, the report stated.

Already, noted Maria Flynn, senior vice president of Jobs for the Future, almost 40 percent of community colleges have introduced some level of green skills curricula. "These initiatives contribute to students' career potential, respond to local employer needs, support the health of the regional environment and benefit the local economy."

To increase the level of community college participation, the report offers numerous recommendations for schools; student groups; policy makers at the local, state and federal levels; and employers and industry associations, among others.

For example, the colleges themselves are urged to "infuse sustainability skills education" across disciplines and incent faculty to adapt their courses accordingly. They're encouraged to offer "project-based learning opportunities," work with local workforce development agencies and share the curriculum they adopt and adapt with other schools across the country.

A big part of the job for college leaders will be communicating with their communities about how the new programs can "improve their way of life." "Growing local economies begins with a knowledgeable and skilled workforce. Embedding social responsibility around sustainability issues enhances the curriculum and better equips students for the world they will be living and working in," said Bryan Albrecht president of Gateway Technical College, in the report. "Leadership is critical to engaging communities in a positive dialog on how individuals, organizations and institutions can better position their interests and desired goals for a sustainable future." The Wisconsin school runs an extensive green program, with numerous education initiatives and sustainable campus operations.

Collaboration will also be a common theme for green initiatives in higher ed, added Jill Wakefield, chancellor of Seattle Colleges. Her institution worked with more than 50 regional industry, governmental, educational and non-profit groups in developing its new program in sustainable building science technology. That degree, she said, "will help fill the gap of highly trained workers needed for the challenges facing the 21st century facilities maintenance leader. We engaged a broad spectrum of stakeholders in our program design and curriculum to make sure our graduates are experts in their field."

The report is available for registration on the National Wildlife Foundation Web site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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