Washington Monthly recently profiled Monroe Community College as being a top college for adult learners.
Much of the MCC’s success revolves around its innovative use of labor market analysis to shape programs that address critical needs and the creation of a dashboard that equips the community with a better understand critical workforce and economic issues.
MCC’s Todd Oldham likens the use of data to a radar pulse. “I can see not just the perspective of an advisory board, but the actual labor market outcomes for our entire career-focused student body.”
Monroe Community College’s Innovative Approach
The Washington Monthly has aptly noted, “Like armies prepared to fight the last war, not the next one, colleges too often create programs of study preparing students for the last economy, even while marketing themselves as being responsive to current trends.”
Not so at Monroe Community College.
In its recent profile of the most innovative colleges for adult learners, the Washington Monthly had high praise for Monroe Community College (MCC)—especially its incredibly effective use of labor market information to 1) build relevant programs and 2) inform the local community about important economic and workforce dynamics.
You can see the latter here in MCC’s new community dashboard. This dashboard uses Emsi data to keep educators, workforce practitioners, and economic developers informed about important regional workforce and economic dynamics.
The goal is to spark collaboration and strategic planning for regional workforce and economic development across the nine-county Finger Lakes region.
As for building relevant programs, one has to look no further than MCC’s new machinist program.
Understanding the Need for Skilled Production Workers
MCC is located in Rochester, New York—a community that felt the full force of the Great Recession when three major local employers were forced to downsize. The economic recovery in Rochester consequently centered around shifting to a new economy typified by smaller companies with more specialized talent needs.
Despite the substantial job decline in low-skilled manufacturing, there was still considerable need for new workers to fill many less obvious middle- to high-skilled production jobs—a common refrain in many manufacturing-dependent communities.
To deal with this new dynamic, MCC’s Todd Oldham and the Economic Development and Innovative Workforce Services division mediated between students/jobseekers and employers. They particularly focused on the hard-to-fill skilled trades, aka careers that fall into the middle-skills gap.
Building a Data-Driven Solution
Key to addressing the skills gap in Rochester (as in any community) was accurately diagnosing the local issues. “It really came down to looking at the data,” Oldham said. “Could we get a handle on the quality of the gaps? What did the in-demand jobs pay? Would a program in this area be sustainable for the investment that Monroe would need to make?”
As Oldham explored the data (a combination of traditional labor data, Emsi’s job postings, and employer surveys conducted by the college), he discovered demand for machinists so intense that many machinists who began MCC’s existing program weren’t completing because they were hired early.
MCC’s solution was to add a program structured around an accelerated cohort-based instructional model in order to produce more entry-level workers: 31 machining credits in 22 weeks. This, MCC accomplished with the help of regional partners like the Rochester Technology and Manufacturing Association.
“With this model, we didn’t just increase the number of formally trained machinists against the estimated gaps for the occupation,” Oldham said. “We also realized we could extend this model into other areas.”
MCC now uses a cohort training structure and accelerated program timeline (ideally suited for adult learners) beyond machining. For instance, they have also introduced an accelerated program for medical assistants, and with such models, the college continues to garner praise—like at this recent meeting at New America—for being so adaptive to the needs of adult learners.
A Culture of Evidence
Upping the supply of workers for employers solved one half of the puzzle. Next, MCC turned its attention to better understanding student labor market outcomes.
Partnering with the New York State Department of Labor, Oldham matched MCC graduates with their post-completion wage data via unemployment insurance records. What he discovered was evidence that MCC’s career and technical education (CTE) programming was positively impacting graduate wages. “CTE students overall enjoyed 16% compound growth rate in median pay over four tax years,” he said.
This early slice of data from the class of 2011/2012 also suggested that a machinist who earns a certificate or AAS degree at MCC will tend to enter the market around $15 an hour, but within four years of work, it’ll be closer to $21 an hour–“Well above the $18-per-hour level where a single adult with a preschool child is considered self-sufficient for our county.”
Oldham calls this a trajectory. The results may not be immediate—the college cannot change the typical wages that entry-level workers receive—but long-term, MCC knows it is enhancing the quality of life of their graduates, providing new talent for businesses, and boosting the local economic recovery. When MCC hands a graduate their certificate or degree, it gives them excellent footing in the labor market.
This is an outstanding example of how to use data to impact the lives of individual students, especially adult learners trying to re-skill quickly.
The college is hoping to dig even deeper in order to determine which degrees have higher long-term pay and better benefits. “Do we properly match the opportunity with the student’s need?” Oldham said. “That’s what we need to know. It’s about getting a richer picture of the workforce dynamics that are potentially influencing a gap, but ultimately knowing what’s in it for the student and the local economy in the long run. We want to have that based on not a small sample of CTE students, but on all of our CTE student population in the New York State labor market.”
Data: The Pulse of the Economy
Oldham likens data to a radar pulse. “I can see not just the perspective of an advisory board, but the actual labor market outcomes for our entire career-focused student body,” he said. “The echo I get from the data tells me where MCC’s CTE graduates are working and what they are earning—both the good and the bad.”
Of course, data doesn’t make the problem of needing more skilled workers less challenging, but the right information does help colleges determine the directions and investments they can take. “The data can be overwhelming at first,” Oldham admits, “but knowing the workforce landscape in richer detail helps you make more impactful decisions. Ultimately, it makes the job of senior administrator a little easier.”
Based on MCC’s success in supporting Rochester’s workforce needs, we’ll say these convictions are pretty spot on.