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The Credentialing Crunch

Author: Carnevale, Anthony P.; and Desrochers, Donna M.
Source: Community College Journal, April/May 2001, pp. 32-39.
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Text: Workers seeking jobs in today's knowledge economy need more than a high school diploma. While many applicants come to the interview table with college degrees, increasingly, they also bring with them at least one and possibly a fistful of certificates or certifications that reassures employers they have specific skills. These credentials are earned from a dizzying array of providers vying for a share of a lucrative—more than $720 billion a year—education and training industry as tumultuous as the job market itself.

The nation's community colleges find themselves at the center of the skills validation industry because they provide and validate sought-after new skills while offering academic credentials. But with opportunity comes challenge: If they are to maintain their currency in today's economy, community colleges must update and expand the types of services, certificates, and training they offer their constituents. Otherwise, community colleges may face a narrower future as some employers and job-seekers turn elsewhere for the support and training they require.

The debate over credentials is just the tip of the iceberg—the most obvious part of a growing tension over what the overall mission of community colleges should be in this new century. How can community colleges balance their longstanding dual commitment to social equity goals on the one hand, and the needs of communities, employers, and individuals adapting to changing economic and technological realities on the other?