This brief highlights lessons from the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) Centers of Excellence model, which has redesigned each of the system’s seven campuses as a “college-to-career center” and consolidated academic programs in high-demand industries at particular campuses. 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.
This brief presents lessons from semistructured interviews conducted in 2021 with CCC faculty and staff members, employers, and community partners at two of the seven colleges in the system: Harry S Truman College and Richard J. Daley College. CCC administrators recommended that researchers focus on these two colleges because they represent two variations of the model: one Center of Excellence focus that is capital-intensive and one that is not. These qualitative research data were analyzed systematically to address the following primary research questions.
- In what ways does the Centers of Excellence model help colleges deepen their knowledge of an industry and its needs? How, if at all, does the model facilitate connections with employers, industry associations, and public workforce agencies or help develop work-based learning opportunities for students.
- How is the Centers of Excellence model put into operation in colleges? In what ways does it inform the development of career trajectories, services, and other forms of support provided to students in specific industries?
- What are the strengths of the Centers of Excellence model and what aspects could be further strengthened? What lessons does the Centers of Excellence model offer for other colleges and systems?