[Read more about President Obama touting community college benefits.]
Community colleges nationwide have collaborated with employers on workforce training for many years, says Van Noy. "Ideally, the faculty and administrators have deep ties to industry and industry partners provide input on curriculum in an ongoing dialogue."
Community colleges in Washington state and North Carolina have taken the lead in effective job training, says Davis Jenkins, senior researcher at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University. But some large states such as California, Texas, and Florida remain focused on the transfer mission.
Until now, Chicago city colleges also have stressed transfers, says Jenkins. Career-oriented students turned to private colleges or suburban community colleges for training. College to Careers is "a big thing and a new thing for Chicago," he says.
It's not likely young students will be tracked into narrow job training, he adds. Career tech programs attract few 18-year-olds. Recent high school graduates, told to aim for a bachelor's degree, "flock to general education and transfer classes, and many get lost there."
The three-year graduation rate for full-time, first time students at Chicago's seven city colleges is 7 percent, according to federal data.
People with work experience are the ones who seek industry-linked training, the CCRC's Jenkins says. The challenge for Chicago is ensuring that graduates really have the high-level skills and ability to keep learning that employers demand. "Large employers have very high standards for who they'll hire."
Joanne Jacobs writes Community College Spotlight for The Hechinger Report, an independent nonprofit education news site. Jacobs also blogs about K-12 education and is the author of Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds.