Workforce-Related Terms Every Community College Trustee Should Know

Board Buzzwords - Workforce

Workforce-Related Terms Every Community College Trustee Should Know


training in a field to allow individuals to gain job experience while also working towards a postsecondary degree or industry-recognized credential. Traditionally, apprenticeships have been thought of as a model through which to train workers in technical fields or skilled trades such as construction. However, today the discussion about apprenticeships includes expanding programs to include training for growing white-collar and service-oriented occupations.  Apprenticeships: An Emerging Community College Strategy for Workforce Development (2019), including registered apprenticeship programs, pre-apprenticeships and youth apprenticeships, features profiles of apprenticeship programs at two colleges to illustrate how community colleges are expanding apprenticeship opportunities for students to gain jobs in growing and in-demand industries in their regions. The profiles also detail how the colleges are working to diversify apprenticeship programs to non-traditional industries and reach out to a diverse range of students, especially women and students of color.

career pathways

According to the U.S. Departments of  Education, Health and Human Services, career pathways are a series of connected education and training strategies and support services that enable individuals to secure industry-relevant certification and obtain employment within an occupational area and to advance to higher levels of future education and employment in that area.  MDRC Research on Career Pathways identifies core elements such as alignment of connected education strategies and multiple entry and exit points and others.


Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy is an independent, nonprofit research and policy institute affiliated with the Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy that studies the link between education, career qualifications, and workforce demands.


short form for co-operative education, refers to work placement experiences that are paid, typically full-time, career-oriented and integrated into an academic curriculum and transcripted in contrast to “internships” which usually refer to a one-term assignment, either part- or full-time, paid or unpaid. (See internships)

community college baccalaureate

A four-year bachelor’s degree program conferred at a community college. Typically, the degrees earned are Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) and/or Bachelor of Technology (BAT) and are focused on applied learning tied to a profession or industry.

credential/credentials framework

refers to the skills, knowledge and competencies underpinning educational programs. Because the competencies students might develop through each degree, certificate, license or badge are difficult to discern, and even more difficult to organize into a coherent, successful development path, the Lumina Foundation has developed a credentials framework which uses competencies to identify what the learner knows and is able to do.  Many large tech companies like Google and Amazon are expanding their postsecondary credential offerings.  Online resources like the Credential Finder help learners identify potential certificates for skills they wish to develop. Developing uniformity and transparency in the marketplace of credentials has been the goal of organizations like Credential Engine which has produced a Credential Transparency Description Language (CTDL) Handbook. (See digital badge and stackable credentials.)

disruptive innovation

technological advancement or change intended to improve upon or offer different approaches which disrupts long standing models of teaching and learning and education in general and particularly those innovations that create a new market that overshadows existing markets. Leaders, even Congress, are finding difficulty in keeping up with all the changes and disruption to conventional or traditional ways of teaching and learning.  Much of the disruption is emerging from outside higher ed and students are increasingly predicted to be getting a job to get a college degree rather than going to college to get a job.


the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races, cultures, genders, etc.) in a group or organization or community. As an important feature of an institution’s staff and student body, colleges and organizations often have diversity committees and diversity statements about acknowledging, accepting and practicing mutual respect to eradicate all forms of discrimination. Among other issues, a great deal of controversy has been around race-conscious admissions. Additionally, because of historic bias toward certain human characteristics, implicit bias research has gained greater momentum. (See implicit bias.)

experiential learning

learning through experience, learn by doing and reflecting on doing; assumes a more active role by the learner. Internships and service learning are forms of experiential learning.

gainful employment

Regulations that will hold career training programs accountable for putting their   students on the path to success, and which complement action across the U.S. Administration to protect consumers and prevent and investigate fraud, waste and abuse, particularly at for-profit colleges, has been recently rescinded by the Department of Education.  Colleges affected by these new regulations were required to meet and report on debt-to-income rates. The so-called gainful employment regulations required that a typical graduate of a career college (mostly for-profit schools) – or school that trains students specifically for employment — get a job that makes them enough money to pay back their loans to keep their alma mater eligible for federal financial aid funding. Specifically, a typical graduate’s annual loan payments need to be less than 8% of their earnings or less than 20% of their discretionary income. Programs that don’t meet these requirements would be at risk of losing their federal financial aid funding.


the position of a student or trainee who works in an organization, sometimes without pay, in order to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification.  (See also co-op.)

middle-skills workforce; middle skills gap

the National Skills Coalition calls the middle-skills workforce, people holding well-paying and high-demand jobs that require more than a high school diploma and less than a four-year degree. These comprise more than half of America’s jobs, yet only about 40 percent of the country’s workers are trained up to the middle-skill level.  Employers are struggling to find qualified machinists, laboratory technicians, computer network architects and other middle-skills workers.

Project–based learning (PBL)

is a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge.

skills gap

the difference between what employers need and what college graduates can actually do or perform on the job. For many years, employers have been concerned about the skill level of graduates from high school, college, and universities, i.e. graduating with few skills to be able to work effectively in the 21st century workplace. Some companies are even offering skills-focused boot camps to find employees with skills needed on the job. Many educational institutions indicate that their mission is to educate, not only prepare students for skills-based jobs. Nevertheless, foundations, states, and professional websites such as LinkedIn are uniting to create job search platforms for middle-skills workers to attempt to alleviate the gap by providing common language and information for needed skills.

social mobility

movement of individuals, families or groups through a system of social hierarchy. Many believe that community colleges hold the key to social mobility for low-income students and that the more education one receives, the greater the opportunity for students to prepare for higher paying jobs and earn higher incomes over their lifetimes.

soft skills

refers to “people skills”: communication, speaking, writing, getting along with others, etc.

stackable credentials

a series of academic credentials that build upon each other toward a degree or profession.  Example: Accounting Clerk, Accounting Paraprofessional, Accountant. CCRC explored if stackable credentials have labor market value.

vocational training

career and technical training.

work-based learning

refers to high-quality, work-based learning opportunities that integrate applicable academic concepts and state standards and evaluate a student’s mastery of key employability skills. In most cases, students can reap greater benefits from quality work-based learning programs than they can from traditional teen employment opportunities. Some middle schools have implemented career exploration programs to connect young students to employability skills and learn about potential careers.  Different states define work-based learning in various ways. This complexity and variation in definitions can be found in Work-Based Learning Definitions Themes From States and National Organizations. Work-based learning opportunities are being expanded at the federal level.


refers to programs, both federal and campus-based, that provide partial funding to students with financial need to get part-time jobs, most preferably related to their field of study.  Federal Work-Study (FWS) funds  are  provided for full- or part-time students with financial need at colleges that have had their federal application approved. The new FWS Experimental Site is particularly relevant to community colleges interested in expanding work-based learning.