Cover: Career Services and College-Employer Partnership Practices in Community Colleges

Career Services and College-Employer Partnership Practices in Community Colleges

Colleges in California, Ohio, and Texas

Published Jul 6, 2022

by Rita T. Karam, Charles A. Goldman, Monica Rico


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Research Questions

  1. What types of policies and incentives are states putting in place to encourage community colleges to facilitate student employment?
  2. What types of initiatives and supports do career services at community colleges have in place to help students find employment?
  3. In what ways are community colleges partnering with employers to support their needs for skilled workers in STEM and STEM-related fields?
  4. What are the challenges for providing career services and for establishing and maintaining partnerships?
  5. What policies, practices, and resources are needed to improve career services and increase the effectiveness of the partnerships?

Community colleges play a key role in driving talent development in the United States, producing workers with the kinds of training that employers need while enhancing economic mobility for students. There has been a push among policymakers at the federal and state levels to hold community colleges accountable for the employment outcomes of their students, with funding and legislation that endorses models that strengthen college partnerships with employers.

In this report, the authors systemically examine the type of career services and college-employer partnership practices in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields across three states — California, Ohio, and Texas — and a sample of community colleges that operate within them. In addition, the authors investigate the challenges that these colleges face in facilitating student employment and the ways in which state policies may have influenced practice. They reviewed state policies and collected interview data from 134 participants, including state and system leaders, college leaders, program heads and faculty, career service leaders and staff, and employers.

Key Findings

State Incentives Appear to Be Weak in Terms of Encouraging Colleges to Emphasize Employment Outcomes

  • Of the three study states, only California allocated a small portion of its funding (17 percent) to colleges according to student outcomes. However, the allocation method is opaque, and the allocation portion related to employment outcomes is small, limiting the extent to which colleges are incentivized to change their approaches to improving student employment.

Depending on the Model Adopted, Colleges Vary in the Extent to Which They Provide Connected Career Services

  • Colleges with centralized offices have difficulty implementing connected career services. Colleges that embed their career services into meta-majors or programs helped students make better connections between career services and academic programs.

Colleges Experience Difficulty Developing Strategic Relationships with Partners

  • Partnership-building lacks coordination and relies on advisory boards and personal connections. A few colleges restructured their advisory boards, created new offices for establishing strategic partnerships, and targeted resources toward employers.

Colleges Face Tensions Between Their Transfer and Workforce Development Missions

  • College leaders tend to place greater focus on students who are preparing to enter a four-year institution rather than those who are seeking employment while enrolled in community college.

Limited Staff Capacity and Resources Reduce Partnership-Building and Delivery of Services

  • Bureaucratic structures at community colleges hinder the hiring of the staff needed to develop partnerships and provide career services. High staff turnover and inadequate staff also slow the colleges' responsiveness to employer requests and limit the services provided to students.


  • Colleges should assess their structures and make intentional modifications that support partnership development and the provision of career services.
  • Colleges should develop a strategic vision for employer partnerships that is linked to business planning and articulated throughout the college to ensure a shared understanding and help inform the selection of partners with adequate capacity.
  • Strategic approaches to building partnerships should include reviewing current partnerships to target efforts on the most meaningful partners, developing rubrics for managing the partnerships, develop a system to document partnership activities, and engaging in activities to promote buy-in.
  • Colleges should invest in approaches that provide a tighter link between academic programs and meta-majors to integrate career service functions meaningfully into students' career exploration process and academic progression.
  • Colleges should develop career road maps to delineate career-related activities that are aligned with student education goals to increase student uptake of services.
  • Colleges should increase their efforts to design and market their services in a way that distinguishes between the needs of different student groups, including low-income students and students of color.
  • Colleges should invest in new models with employers to finance education for students who are interested in workforce development education programs that lead to jobs that are in high demand.
  • Colleges should establish a system for monitoring and creating accountability for partnerships and career services.
  • States should support colleges by establishing state standards and assistance for effective college-employer partnerships, providing technical assistance for colleges to increase work-based learning opportunities, and assisting colleges with collecting employment data.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through grant R30A180377, and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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