BOSTON HERALD: Community colleges could play key role in coronavirus pandemic recovery
As originally appearing in The Boston Herald/State House News Service

By State House News Service

Community colleges are well positioned to train workers for the “new economy” created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of a regional business group said Tuesday.

New England Council President and CEO Jim Brett, speaking on a panel hosted by the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges, said career fields for which there is now high demand are those that have long been “sweet spots” of community colleges, like information technology, advanced manufacturing and health care.

“I think there’s going to be pent-up demand for students to be re-trained and re-skilled in areas that in the last four months have demonstrated a shortage,” Brett said.

Valerie Roberson, the president of Roxbury Community College, said all of her school’s health care programs — from short-term training programs in phlebotomy to full associate degrees in nursing and radiologic technology — are in demand, as are information technology programs at a time when so much of life has shifted online to comply with social distancing.

Roberson said she also foresees a future need to train hospitality workers so that they are equipped for the new health and safety precautions facing their industries and prepared for future surges of COVID-19.

“We’ll be working with various industries to help adapt to this new world,” she said.

To help grow the economy, Roberson suggested policymakers could “look at ways to provide an incentive” for companies to partner with community colleges. She said the state “would be well served to kind of orchestrate the marriage between the businesses and the people who need the work.”

The Herald reported Sunday that community colleges across the state are preparing for a boost in enrollment as students make higher education choices that keep them closer to home amid the uncertainty of the pandemic economy.

“This is a time for not just community college, but all of higher education to reinvent and reimagine our mission,” said Roberson.

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