The City Colleges of Chicago have a unique, innovative way of providing students with the education and training employers require to get good-paying jobs that are in local demand: Each of the seven colleges in the system, which are spread geographically across the city of Chicago, is deemed a “Center of Excellence” and leads career and technical education for a particular industry. These are high-demand industries: healthcare, education, advanced manufacturing and engineering, transportation distribution and logistics, and business and professional services.
The model incorporates features of sectoral training programs, which prepare people for quality jobs in specific industries and occupational clusters—sectors of the labor market—where there is strong local demand and the opportunity for career advancement. Evidence from studies of similar sector-focused training models outside of the community college setting suggests that the Centers of Excellence model could be a promising one for other large community colleges systems to emulate and that it could even have important lessons for smaller systems and stand-alone community colleges. In a system in which each college focuses on a single sector or cluster of related sectors, colleges can be more responsive to employers, become the central point of contact for employers in a given sector, and, in the process, help ensure that students will obtain the skills and education that employers need and that will lead to good jobs with opportunities for career growth.
In this project, we focused on how the Center of Excellence model at two colleges (one focused on advanced manufacturing, the other on early childhood education) shaped the colleges’ relationships with local employers, student support services, curriculum, capital investments, and work-based learning opportunities.