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Community Colleges Get to Work: Adopting Work-Based Learning in Partnership with Health Care Employers

O. Steven Quimby and Kimberly R. Rogers

The nation’s rising demand for health care is creating a need for more frontline workers who provide direct services to patients. Effective training programs for medical assistants, social workers, receptionists, and those in other frontline occupations are critical for ensuring access to quality care.

Community colleges are an important provider of education and skills training for the frontline health care workforce, who are overwhelmingly low-income women from minority backgrounds and who face many obstacles to career and education advancement. Recognizing the need for new education models, a number of community colleges have joined with health care employers in a nationwide effort to change the way frontline workers are trained, rewarded, and advanced in their careers.

Jobs to Careers, a national initiative that is developing the skills and career paths of workers on the front lines of health care, has generated significant knowledge about how community colleges can develop and sustain work-based learning. Community colleges should consider infusing traditional courses with work-based learning for health care programs and other fields. Colleges and employers need to find alternative and diverse funding sources to sustain these innovations over the long term. The result will be stronger businesses, stronger local economies, better paths to family-supporting incomes, and a healthier nation.