Millions of students attend community colleges each year, with nearly 1,300 schools located across the United States. With their large numbers of students, community colleges are a massive source of potential for developing the artificial intelligence (AI) workforce, but employers and policymakers are sorely underestimating their potential.
If the United States is to maintain its global lead and competitive edge in AI, it must recognize that community colleges hold a special place in our education system and are too important to be neglected any longer.
As detailed in a recent study that I co-authored as part of Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), community colleges have the potential to support the nation in its mission to be superior in of AI. Community colleges could create gateways to high-paying jobs across the United States and become tools for training a new generation of AI-savvy workers.
Instead, the focus today remains squarely on four-year colleges. Employers routinely only consider applicants with a bachelor’s degree, even though a third of the AI workforce does not. This number reflects the entire US workforce, where 60% of workers do not have a four-year college degree. Degree requirements also disproportionately affect communities of color, as nearly 70% of black workers and 80% of Latino workers are unlicensed.
Employers of the RN workforce must eliminate arbitrary bachelor’s degree requirements. They are disenfranchising a wide range of diverse talent, shrinking the talent pool in an already tight labor market, and blocking pathways to quality jobs for workers everywhere. Instead, these public and private employers must expand and diversify their workforce by focusing on credentials that indicate competence.
The undervaluation of below-bachelor’s degrees prevents community colleges from capitalizing on their many strengths. They reach a diverse student body, are affordable and flexible, and have a proven track record of providing education and training in technical fields. The adaptability of their programs allows them to incorporate stackable degrees that students can accumulate over time, creating entry and exit points into and out of the education system for students while maintaining proof of skills for employment.
Community colleges provide a place of learning for those who have full-time jobs, need to care for families, lack the resources to pay for an expensive four-year degree, or face one of the other inhibiting burdens of career supported by millions of people. Americans.
While community colleges could become a key part of the AI workforce training pipeline, realizing this potential is no small task. They face a number of long-standing challenges, such as nebulous and inconsistent funding (and many competing priorities for said funds), difficulties recruiting and retaining staff, and a student body with many needs facing them. those in four-year colleges do not face. . The result of these challenges is consistently low completion rates, especially in STEM fields. More recently, community colleges have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, further taxing their limited resources.
These issues are well known and efforts by schools to alleviate them have shown progress. Various community colleges across the country are experimenting with promising ideas as guided pathways to address one or more of these challenges. Workforce training programs in other fields also offer a guide to do’s and don’ts. As community colleges begin to implement AI and AI-related curricula, they should ensure they include best practices from these efforts.
Schools also need to ensure that AI and related degrees will actually lead to quality jobs. One of the problems they face is that today’s credential landscape looks like the Wild West. There are nearly a million unique identifiers in the United States, and their caliber varies widely. In addition, there are currently few requests for AI certifications from employers. This will most likely remain the case until there are industry-accepted standards or another accreditation effort for AI-related credentials.
This is where the federal government can help. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), or another appropriate government agency, should facilitate the creation of a framework for professional roles and competencies for AI jobs. This will help schools design their programs around these and help industries understand which degrees are valuable. NIST has created a similar framework for cybersecurity called National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) which has been hugely successful. Non-governmental standards organizations (as well as industry stakeholders) could also be leveraged, in partnership with or in place of NIST, to help create something similar for AI.
Leveraging community colleges offers the United States a way to stay ahead of its competitors, create upward mobility for millions of workers, and gear its workforce to the jobs of the future. But they need help getting there. With the right support from policymakers and buy-in from the many other necessary stakeholders, they can turn their potential into reality.
Luke Koslosky is a research analyst at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET).