Dr. Mordecai Brownlee, president of Community College of Aurora (CCA), testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Workforce Development today to share the college’s plan to power economic recovery through workforce education and training. Read the full testimony.
The hearing, titled “Skill, Upskill, and Reskill: Analyzing New Investments in Workforce Development,” covered factors contributing to the workforce shortage and potential solutions, including improvements to the workforce development system and increased funding for infrastructure jobs.
Thanks to their deep relationships with industry and nimble program design, community colleges are well-positioned to help shore up the workforce, Dr. Brownlee said.
Community colleges, like ours, stand on the front lines and in service to the most disadvantaged students and those hardest impacted.
Although the labor market has regained most jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, small firms have struggled to recruit and retain a skilled workforce. According to a survey of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses participants, 50% named the labor shortage as their top issue, and 97% said hiring challenges are impacting their bottom line.
To support small businesses, CCA is offering more non-credit training options in high-growth fields—healthcare, renewable energy, and construction management—that upskill students quickly, Dr. Brownlee said. Staff are also expanding hybrid and online learning options and providing more wraparound supports to attract students.
“Lack of reliable transportation, childcare, and broadband access have historically created barriers to a quality education,” Dr. Brownlee said. “Listening to the voice of our students, CCA has worked in hand with our student body to eliminate barriers and provide resources to promote equitable access and opportunity for our students.”
Colleges need sustained federal support to continue to meet local business and community needs, Dr. Brownlee added. Workforce programs require large spaces and equipment, making them expensive to operate. Increased funding would help colleges start up or expand in-demand programs like manufacturing and healthcare, he said.
To get more prospective employees into the pipeline, Congress should also step up financial support for students and business leaders, Dr. Brownlee said. Rolling out short-term or tax-free Pell grants would incentive students to enroll in expedited training programs. Dedicated job programs, like those included in the original Build Back Better Act, offset training costs for small businesses while making college affordable, he said.
With strong state and federal support, community colleges can create lasting opportunity for businesses and the students who power them, Dr. Brownlee said.
“We are laser focused on redesigning our institution for industry and workforce relevance, and we understand that our sustainability depends on our ability to evolve and respond. Our communities are depending on us to provide an accessible, affordable, supportive, and transformative post-secondary and workforce education.”