PROJECTChanging Community College Systems for Student Success


Many community colleges struggle to successfully serve today’s students and meet employers’ workforce needs. Community colleges are major providers of education and training across communities with diverse student bodies, but they face low completion rates, diminished public funding, and challenges aligning skills training with employer needs. Over the past two decades, community colleges have developed new ways to address these challenges by changing how their institutions work both internally and as a part of their local workforce system.

To help community college leaders and others, this interactive page describes some strategies community colleges can use for systems change (accelerating learning, improving persistence and completion, and better connecting students to employment) as well as the core principles guiding systems change efforts. Click the strategies below for more information.


1. Respond to student and industry needs. Whether students are youth in dual-enrollment programs, recent high school graduates, or adult learners with family and work commitments, their individual needs should be addressed. Education and training programs should be aligned with employers’ needs and required occupational and job-readiness skills.

2. Create strong, ongoing internal and external partnerships. Leadership buy-in and strong partnerships within the community college (including faculty; advisers; and financial aid, registrar, and administration) are key to the success of systems change efforts. External partnerships, especially with other institutions of higher education, state education agencies, employer and industry associations, the workforce system, and other community-based organizations, are also important.

3. Ensure equity of opportunity. A focus on equity of access and opportunity through inclusive policies and processes should be built into systems change efforts.

4. Institutionalize and sustain change. Sustainability should be incorporated into systems change efforts from the start so that community colleges and their stakeholders develop policies and practices in a way that ensures changes are institutionalized.

5. Measure progress toward goals. Tracking and measuring progress toward both short- and long-term goals is crucial for successful systems change efforts. This includes monitoring key accomplishments for employer engagement, other collaborations, access to and quality of education and training, data-driven decisionmaking, scale, and sustainability. Outcomes for employers and students should also be tracked.

This interactive page was funded by a grant from JPMorgan Chase. We are grateful to them and to all our funders, who make it possible for Urban to advance its mission. The Urban Institute is collaborating with JPMorgan Chase over five years to inform and assess JPMorgan Chase’s philanthropic investments in key initiatives. One of these is New Skills at Work, a $250 million multiyear workforce development initiative that aims to expand and replicate effective approaches for linking education and training efforts with the skills and competencies employers need. The goals of the collaboration include using data and evidence to inform JPMorgan Chase’s philanthropic investments; assessing whether its programs are achieving desired outcomes; and informing the larger fields of policy, philanthropy, and practice. As one of several workforce development resources Urban is developing, this interactive page visually details the strategies that community colleges have implemented to change their systems to better serve students, employers, and their community.

Research Areas Education Workforce
Tags Job training Community colleges