By Jenna Somers
Community and technical colleges are essential for expanding access to post-secondary education and preparing students to enter the workforce, particularly within their local communities. Unfortunately, these institutions often have limited financial resources to respond to both industry demands in changing labor markets and to prepare students to continue their educations beyond the community and technical college level. To address this issue, the State of Tennessee invested $45 million in career and technical education (CTE) programming through both the 2013 Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) and the 2019 Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) grant.
State stakeholders and college practitioners who participated in implementing LEAP and GIVE grants were aligned in their understanding of the grants’ goals, which has contributed to the successful implementation and maintenance of CTE programs in Tennessee. That is according to a recent study by Adela Soliz, assistant professor of leadership, policy, and organizations, and Cara DeLoach and Hidahis Mesa, doctoral students in the Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development. Based on their findings, the researchers propose a conceptual framework to understand how external funding, like Tennessee’s LEAP and GIVE grants, might reduce institutional capacity constraints in other states.
“The administrators used the grants to address labor shortages, improve in-demand CTE programs and workforce pipelines, and develop and maintain collaborations between colleges, community partners, and local industry,” said DeLoach, a Ph.D. student in Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies and first author of the study.
Study participants described purchasing items such as expensive manufacturing training equipment, investing in new facilities, including a mobile classroom to reach rural students, and hiring new faculty as well as administrators to manage relationships and meetings with local employers.
The researchers interviewed 43 participants involved in Tennessee’s workforce development system, including college and high school administrators and faculty as well as employees of chambers of commerce and state agencies.
The state’s formal communication of goals through grant application requirements, legislation, and progress reporting requirements combined with the participants’ institutional knowledge and experience ensured alignment between the state’s goals and the use of grant funds. The meetings with employers were often critical to overcoming challenges to implementation, such as establishing credibility with employers to participate in work-based learning since many of them were worried about legal restrictions regarding minors working in their facilities. In the early days of implementing programs, college administrators, employers and other stakeholders used these meetings to come to consensus around program goals and overcome challenges.
“Overall, we present a framework for how external funding can be used to increase institutional capacity at community and technical colleges to support high-quality CTE programs,” said Soliz, the study’s senior author. “These funds incentivized the development of collaborations among community and technical colleges, industry partners, high schools, economic development agencies, and other external partners, which can increase seats within programs, allow colleges to recruit more students, and support local labor markets with highly skilled workers ready to join the workforce upon graduation.”