Posted by: Carol | December 16, 2011

CCCAOE Fall 2011 Conference: Vice Chancellor Van Ton-Quinlivan’s Keynote Address

At the start of CCCAOE’s main conference, Vice Chancellor  of Economic and Workforce Development, Van Ton-Quinlivan presented a compelling and data-packed opening keynote address, which I thought made some really interesting points about the direction she hopes to steer the CTE-related efforts facilitated by the Chancellor’s Office. She started by talking about how the CTE community shares a common value, which is that we want to create options for our youth, and the adults who turn to us, mid-career. And then she asked a key question – one that’s been discussed with some energy for the past few months – do we have a structural mismatch between the skills that are being taught, and the jobs that are currently available?

Over the past 20+ year period, the number of available jobs in the U.S. has grown by about 63 million, for those with the necessary skills and credentials to obtain them. In contrast, for those with a high school diploma or less, the number of available jobs shrunk by about 2 million. In light of these numbers and the challenges faced by the economy in recent years, we in the CTE field, she argued, have the power to become catalysts, in California, for economic and job recovery at the local, regional, and state levels.

Vice Chancellor Van Ton-Quinlivan makes her keynote address.

So, how to do this? 1) Supply in-demand skills for employers, 2) create relevant and stackable credentials, 3) get Californians into open jobs, and 4) ensure student success.

Currently, there are 8000 certificate programs and 4500 Associate degrees being offered in 142 fields, throughout the state. On average, there are 113 programs in 25 fields per college, and the most commonly offered programs are in the fields of auto tech, office tech, and child development/early care and education. Smaller colleges offer more programs per students, which is associated with lower completions per program. Also, when you compare private, for-profit colleges and community colleges, the facts show that the private for-profits are out-performing the community colleges in awarding certifications and achieving completion of their programs.

These numbers beg the questions, are our offerings aligned to market needs? Are they (and we) spread too thin?

The Vice Chancellor then returned to her earlier themes, and started to break things down a bit more. First, she addressed our need for greater responsiveness, to both the industry sector and to students. There’s a great deal of complexity involved within our community college systems, and as we work to deliver the training needed by multiple sectors and employers, this complexity increases and becomes magnified. In order to be more responsive, we need to help industry navigate our systems, facilitating the process by which their need for skilled workers are met.

Vice Chancellor of Economic and Workforce Development, Van Ton-Quinlivan

In order to be responsive to students, we need to create relevant pathways and stackable credentials. Here, Ton-Quinlivan illustrated two test cases, the first being the “high end” students, such as engineers. Engineering students generally spend the equivalent of four years in college, with only one of those years being allowed for developing a specialization. Unfortunately, in a field that evolves as rapidly as engineering, those specializations can become obsolete within the lifespan of an engineer’s career. If provided the right opportunities, engineers could come to community colleges, mid-career, and obtain the certification necessary to specialize in new and updated areas of specialization, making their skill sets more relevant to the changing demands of their field. The second scenario presented construction students, who used an apprenticeship program to obtain an entry level job. In this scenario, the apprentice comes to the community colleges to get a certificate to become a journeyman. Then, later, s/he can return for an AA or an AAS to become a supervisor or manager. Farther on in his/her career, there may be a third opportunity for the this individual to return and get a teaching certificate. Both of these cases illustrate that the community college system needs to be able to provide the on-ramps and exits to facilitate the seven careers the average person will have during a lifetime. Providing stackable credentials allows for phases and transformations in careers.

This led to the third theme Ton-Quinlivan brought up – integration and leverage to get Californians into open jobs. Community colleges should make easier what is hard. Articulation at the local level can be facilitated at the system level. To support this, there should be transparent definitions of excellence – a way to unpack what makes programs truly successful. These definitions should be pulled from an intersection of industry partnership practices and career education practices, where “Best Practice Models” are able to accommodate more players and regions, and the greater complexity that they will undoubtedly bring. Also, she addressed the “firehose versus the faucet” situation that often occurs in certificate programs. Often, pathways or programs produce 25 certificated students or more, in answer to a situation where there are only one to three job openings per sector or pipeline. To prevent this, community colleges need to enlist multiple employers, regionally and maybe even beyond, to “own” the program, ensuring that the number of available jobs are in proportion to the number of students moving through the pipeline.

Vice Chancellor Van Ton-Quinlivan, taking questions from conference attendees.

Winding down her talk, the Vice Chancellor projected forward, carrying the work we do from CTE into the broader context, where we may have a greater shared knowledge and capacity to answer some of the most challenging questions our ever-evolving industries, economy, and society-at-large may ask. Will we swing and miss, she asked? Or will we do what it takes to hit a home run?


  1. […] spring conference in San Francisco, CA. We attended the fall 2011 conference (see posts here and here), and expect that this coming event will be just as packed with useful ideas, information, and […]

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