Employer and Community College Partnership Challenge

$4 million grant challenge to support innovative partnerships that meet regional workforce needs, boost employment and earnings outcomes for students, and drive enrollment for community colleges.

Power of Partnerships

Strada Education Foundation created this $4 million grant-making initiative to build on existing efforts to connect education and work and provide new resources and opportunities, including financial assistance, paid internships and apprenticeships, and support for supplies and curriculum. This represents Strada’s first major national investment in community colleges and a recognition that these institutions have a unique capacity and proximity to support learners and to address dynamic regional workforce needs.

As the country experiences a dramatic period of job turnover, economic uncertainty, and postsecondary enrollment declines, employers and educators alike are eager to find ways to meet rapidly changing education and workforce needs. Recognizing the transformative role that community colleges have long played in the economic growth of individuals and communities, this national effort supports community colleges and their employer partners to improve employment and socioeconomic outcomes, particularly for students who historically have faced significant barriers to economic mobility.

As Strada seeks to put employment, earnings and noneconomic outcomes at the core of how we view and value learning after high school, the partnerships in this program will provide important insight into how cross-sector collaboration helps create equitable pathways to opportunity.


Strada has awarded two-year grants of up to $400,000 to 11 community colleges and their employer partners innovating to meet regional workforce needs, boost employment and earnings for students, and drive enrollment for community colleges. Through these grants, Strada supports partnerships that lead to measurable student outcomes focused on employment, economic stability, and fulfillment of purpose. Recipients also will participate in a community of practice, coordinated and led by Education Strategy Group, that will provide opportunities to learn from other community college-employer partnerships and build connections across industries and regions.

Broward College in Broward County, Florida, will partner with more than 40 local employers in industries including information technology, manufacturing, health care, and skilled trades. The partnership will expand  Broward UP, a community-centered program that aims to address generational poverty by providing industry-recognized training for high-demand occupations. Building upon the original six specific ZIP codes, this expansion effort aims to ensure residents, regardless of where they live, are from, or their economic circumstances, receive the opportunity to pursue meaningful education and employment. The college will coordinate with local governments and organizations to locate training in under-resourced communities, and employers will work with the college to provide tuition reimbursements, develop competency-based training programs, and offer internships and other work-based learning opportunities.

Carl Albert State College, located on the eastern edge of Oklahoma, has campuses in Poteau and Sallisaw. The Sallisaw campus will lead an initiative partnering with the Cherokee Nation, the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, Adventure Head Start, and the city of Sallisaw. The grant focus will prepare and train the local workforce for careers in education and health care. Significant growth is underway in the region, including the creation of three new child development centers, a new College of Osteopathic Medicine, the building of a 175-bed veterans center, and the successful passage of legislation to build a hospital in the area. Each of these opportunities requires a skilled workforce and presents opportunities for action. The college will develop training programs that support stackable credentials and transfer pathways for students, and employers will provide resources for program development, support student recruitment, and offer scholarships and other financial support for students to complete degrees or add work-related certification.

Community College of Rhode Island will partner with Delta Dental of Rhode Island to address emergent workforce training needs in the state’s dental health sector. The partnership also will focus on expanding clinical skills training capacity and increasing equity-led educational access for students in the college’s competitive dental hygiene degree program. Delta Dental will provide funding support for student scholarships and for the renovation of the college’s dental hygiene clinic. This capacity-building support will allow for a 50 percent increase in dental hygiene enrollment, creating a robust pipeline of highly skilled workforce talent while filling a critical gap in Rhode Island’s dental health care workforce.

Green River College in Auburn, Washington, will partner with a technology industry consortium that includes: Washington Technology Industry Association, Computing for All, and Mentors in Tech, a local social good venture led by Microsoft alumni. With the ultimate goal to guide and support more students into successful technology careers, this consortium will create an employer-guided capstone course for students in the software development program and related applied science degrees. The college will offer a capstone course in which students pitch solutions for projects with local technology employers; employers will evaluate pitches, select teams, and provide stipends for student work; and Mentors in Tech will coordinate relationships with employers and provide guidance to student teams. This multidimensional model of facilitated, employer-engaged capstone projects will be replicated first at Lake Washington Institute of Technology, a partner college in Kirkland, Washington, and potentially scaled to similar programs in AppConnect NW, a regional coalition of nine community and technical colleges offering similar programs in software development.

Honolulu Community College in Honolulu will work with multiple employers across a range of industries, including technology, carpentry, and fashion, to develop and expand employer advisory boards. These boards will work to more deeply integrate labor market needs and standards into academic programs and create career pathways for students. The college will collaborate with employers on curriculum development, require faculty to participate in advisory board activities, and set expectations for employer involvement in every program offered by the college. In addition to supporting the college with curriculum development, employers will work closely with the college to support student career pathways through work-based learning, recruitment for program graduates, and site tours and workshops.

Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis will partner with Eli Lilly and Co. to strengthen existing apprenticeship programs and training pathways for a variety of positions within the company by prioritizing recruitment and support of Black students through the Skills First Program. The program will target roles that serve as pathways to family-sustaining careers, including positions within human resources, information technology, and research and development, as well as advanced manufacturing, instrument technician, and mechanic positions. The college will incorporate additional professional development, leadership, and technology skills training, and provide students with tailored career coaching. Lilly will provide tuition assistance, paid internships, and consideration for job openings upon completion of the apprenticeship program, as well as support the recruitment and training of Black students as a member of the OneTen coalition, which connects Black talent to well-paying job opportunities.

Mira Costa College in north San Diego County, California, will partner with Sterogene Bioseparations Inc. and Open Biopharma Research and Training Institute to train students for careers in biotechnology, and to meet the employers’ need to reduce turnover in entry-level biotechnology roles. The college will develop a work-based learning program, including project-based learning and internships, that is integrated with the bachelor’s degree program in biomanufacturing. Employers will sponsor, design and execute apprenticeship programs; support project-based learning opportunities; provide students with professional mentorship; and advise on curriculum.

Pima County Community College District in Tucson, Arizona, will partner with multiple employers in engineering, manufacturing, and health care, including American Medical Response, Competitive Engineering Inc., and Evaero, to connect microcredential pathways with work-based learning and employment opportunities. The college will provide navigation support and career coaches to advance equity in its microcredential pathways, and the employers will provide paid earn-and-learn opportunities, mentorship, and career development for students, plus contract with colleges to provide instruction for some certifications.

Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City will partner with Intermountain Healthcare, the region’s largest health care provider, to meet urgent health care workforce needs. This initiative specifically focuses on providing training programs and creating career exploration pathways for surgical technicians. The college will offer an accelerated program track, expand and upgrade training facilities, support students in the training pathway, and partner with local secondary schools to recruit students. Intermountain Healthcare will provide tuition for current employees pursuing training, provide clinical learning and mentorship for students, donate equipment, and prioritize hiring of program graduates

Surry Community College in Dobson, North Carolina, will partner with Northern Regional Hospital to address health care workforce shortages by increasing enrollment in health care programs and expanding support and work-based learning opportunities for students. Utilizing the work-based learning program Surry-Yadkin Works that connects four local public school systems to the college, a health care liaison and advisor will be hired to increase awareness of health care-related career pathways among middle and high school students and provide classroom and laboratory instruction. Northern Regional Hospital will provide clinical instruction and supervision for students during rotations, provide opportunities for internships and other professional development activities, and contribute to funding the liaison position after the grant period ends.

West Georgia Technical College in LaGrange, Georgia, will partner with the Troup County Economic Development Authority, Delta Airlines, and local employers, including Weiler Forestry, to develop an Advanced Manufacturing Regional Training Center. This center will serve as a centralized training resource for workforce programs offered in response to various regional industry needs. The college will build a regional training facility that is nimble in design to respond to employer priorities through a subscription model. Employers will advise on the training center programs, explore work-based learning opportunities for students, and prioritize interviewing program graduates. The regional training facility will focus specifically on training students in manufacturing, transportation, and skilled trades.

As part of this initiative, Strada Education Foundation is convening a community of practice to offer opportunities to share successes and challenges with peers and learn from other partnerships. Strada has partnered with Education Strategy Group to support the design and execution of this network. ESG is driven by a conviction that a robust education system aligned with workforce demands leads to a stronger, more equitable society. The team at ESG has more than 10 years of experience leading mult-site networks that bring together leaders in education, government, and the private sector in ways that maximize individual engagement, promote team collaboration, and ensure learning across sites. Drawing on experience working with community colleges and employers, ESG will craft the community of practice to promote learning opportunities that build on the good work of not only the 11 colleges in this partnership, but also other best practice sites from across the country.

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Our Team

Beau Boice

Director, Programs

Melissa Leavitt

Director, Research