Millions of students attend community colleges every year, with nearly 1,300 schools in every corner of the United States. With their large student populations, community colleges are a huge source of potential for expanding the artificial intelligence (AI) workforce, but employers and policymakers alike greatly underestimate their potential.
If the United States is to maintain its global lead and competitive advantage in AI, it must recognize that community colleges hold a special place in our education system and are too important to be overlooked any longer.
As detailed In a recent study that I co-authored as part of Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), community colleges have the potential to support the country in its quest for superiority in AI. Community colleges can create pathways to high-paying jobs in the United States and become tools for educating a new generation of AI-literate workers.
Instead, the focus today remains squarely on four-year colleges. Employers routinely consider only applicants with bachelor’s degrees, even if a third of the AI staff have none. This number reflects the broader U.S. workforce, where 60 percent of workers do not have a four-year college degree. Degree requirements also disproportionately affect communities of color as nearly 70 percent of black and 80 percent of Latino workers do not have a bachelor’s degree†
Employers of AI personnel should do away with arbitrary requirements for undergraduate degrees. They rob a wide range of diverse talent, shrink the talent pool in an already tight job market and block the path to quality jobs for employees everywhere. Instead, these public and private employers need to broaden and diversify their workforces by focusing on credentials that signal competence.
Undervaluing sub-baccalaureate credentials prevents community colleges from leveraging their many strengths. They reach a diverse student population, are affordable and flexible, and have a proven track record of technical education and training. The adaptability of their programs allows them to embed stackable credentials that students can accumulate over time, creating entries and exits in and out of the education system for students while preserving proof of competence for work.
Community colleges provide a place to learn for those who have full-time jobs, need to provide for their families, don’t have the resources to afford an expensive four-year degree, or face any of the other career-inhibiting burdens borne. by millions of Americans.
While community colleges could become an important feature of the AI training pipeline for staff, achieving this potential is no small task. They are plagued by a number of long-standing challenges, such as vague and inconsistent funding (and many competing priorities for said funds), difficulties recruiting and retaining staff, and a student population with many needs that are not faced with those at four-year colleges. . The result of these challenges is persistently low completion rates, particularly in STEM areas. More recently, community colleges heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, further straining their limited resources.
These problems are well known and efforts by schools to reduce them have led to progress. Several community colleges across the country are experimenting with it promising ideas Like it guided trails to meet one or more of these challenges. Staff training programs in other areas also provide a guide to what must we do and don’t. As community colleges begin to implement AI and AI-related programs, they need to ensure they incorporate the best practices from these efforts.
Schools also need to ensure that AI and related credentials actually lead to quality jobs. One problem they face is that the current legitimacy landscape still resembles the Wild West. There are almost 1 million unique references in the United States, and they vary greatly in caliber. Furthermore, there is currently little demand for AI Certifications from employers. This will most likely remain so until there are industry-accepted standards or some other accreditation effort for AI-related credentials.
That’s where the federal government can help. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), or other appropriate government agency, should facilitate the creation of a work role and competency framework for AI jobs. This helps schools design their programs that suit them and helps industries understand which credentials are valuable. NIST created a similar cybersecurity framework, the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), which has been hugely successful. Non-governmental standardization bodies (along with industry stakeholders) can also be deployed, in conjunction with or instead of NIST, to help create something similar for AI.
By leveraging community colleges, the United States can outperform its competition, create upward mobility for millions of workers, and adapt its workforce to the jobs of the future. But they need help to get there. With the right support from policy makers and buy-in from the many other stakeholders needed, they can live up to their potential.
Luke Koslosky is a research analyst at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET).