Cuyahoga Community College is one of four community colleges selected for a national initiative looking to strengthen the connection between education and employment.

The two-year project centers on creating professional learning communities. Colleges will convene workforce leaders, members of community organizations, and high school and community college educators to focus on tackling different pipeline problems, working to better align pathways between K-12 education, college and careers.

The project is backed by the nonprofit group Achieving the Dream, a nationwide initiative focused on academic success for community college students.

If community colleges want to center student success and equity while boosting institutions’ abilities “to be hubs for catalyzing equitable, anti-racist and economically vibrant communities,” there needs to be new types of collaboration between colleges’ faculty and local stakeholders, said the organization’s president and CEO, Karen Stout, in a recent news release.

Other participating institutions are in Michigan, Texas and Florida. Organization officials said each of those institutions’ applications submitted in the competitive process identified pipeline gaps and barriers that keep low-income young people from earning economic mobility.

“Even with the strength of our connections with K-12, higher ed, employers and our community, we still had a few other gaps we could fill by participating in this,” Tri-C vice president of access and community connections JaNice Marshall said.

Achieving the Dream officials noted that while related work may already be happening from local schools and agencies, there often can be barriers that keep those entities from working together because the groups are often judged by different benchmarks.

‘Connected experience’

In Cleveland, quantitative research and conversations with stakeholders will be the foundation of the project. The effort at Tri-C isn’t set to fully kick off until later this summer, but partners so far include the MetroHealth System, Polaris Career Center and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Things will be done on a larger and more connected scale, including when it comes to related work the college is already doing.

“I want people to close their eyes and be able to see these stakeholders literally holding hands together to redesign and build processes that will allow students today and moving forward to have this rich, connected experience,” Marshall said.

In terms of a concrete product, the project will look to cultivate “a real explosion of information,” Marshall said.

Local families often struggle to help young people navigate career opportunities, she said, and many leave high school without a plan for what comes next.

Organizers want students to have more exposure and awareness. There will be concentrated efforts such as videos and meet-and-greets with employers that give information about the “myriad” career opportunities in the field beyond doctors and nurses, Marshall said.

The effort is being funded by the Carnegie Corp. of New York. Tri-C will receive $20,000. Achieving the Dream also will provide other types of support, including learning and technical help, to each institution. The hope is to eventually scale these types of professional learning communities in other places.

Achieving the Dream and Tri-C have a history. The college has earned several other grants from the group in recent years, including a $100,000 award focused on boosting completion in 2012 and $25,000 for manufacturing education five years ago. Tri-C president Alex Johnson is the current chair of Achieving the Dream’s board of directors.

Amy Morona covers higher education for Crain’s Cleveland Business, in partnership with Open Campus. This story is part of Crain’s Cleveland Forum coverage, which is sponsored by The Joyce Foundation.

Higher education reporter for Signal Cleveland in partnership with Open Campus.