The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation announces three grants as part of its new Humanities to Career Program, seeking to strengthen access to humanities and liberal arts (HLA) career pathways at community colleges. The three grants, totaling $2.7 million, will support pilot programs at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, MA, Lorain County Community College in Elyria, OH, and Northern Virginia Community College outside of Washington D.C. “We believe that all students should have access to quality humanities programs of study that enrich their lives, strengthen their communities, and prepare them for rewarding careers,” stated Jehuda Reinharz, President & CEO of the Mandel Foundation. “The innovative pilots that our grantee partners are pursuing hold a great deal of promise for expanding the scope and quality of humanities learning at community colleges, while delivering the training that students need to succeed in the labor market.”
The initiative grew out of an eighteen-month planning process in collaboration with Jobs for the Future (JFF), a leading national nonprofit that drives innovation in education and workforce systems. Together with JFF, the Foundation sought to better understand the challenges that community college students in HLA programs face as they progress in their education and enter the workforce. Students in associate degree programs who seek to prepare for today’s economy and the future of work are frequently counseled into career-focused majors such as health care and information technology, not the humanities. Yet, a large percentage of community college students pursue or default to HLA degrees, most commonly in preparation for transfer to four-year programs, and without a clear career plan in place. For students who do not transfer, a two-year associate of arts degree without explicit career preparation offers little additional labor market value when compared with a high school diploma. This reality leaves many associate of arts degree holders with few options for accessing a family-sustaining career.
The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Humanities to Career Program is built on the belief that the study of the humanities can be an asset in preparation for work: majoring in HLA, paired with the attainment of high-value, high-demand technical and professional skills and work experience, can place community college graduates at the head of the hiring queue, as many of the skills cultivated in HLA fields are highly valued by a wide range of employers. “The humanities and liberal arts are not just nice to have, they are essential to preparing community college students to be part of a workforce that demands they learn and adapt throughout their careers.” says Bunker Hill Community College President Pam Eddinger. “The Mandel Humanities to Career Program recognizes the critical role both the liberal arts and technical skills play in a community college education—and that a stronger workforce is possible when the liberal arts and technical education work in concert.”
The three participating colleges will each receive $900,000 over three years to implement pilots that test a variety of strategies for integrating career preparation into HLA pathways. The programs will draw on a range of approaches, such as integration of curricular components that explore the world of work, professional skills training, work-based learning experiences, and wraparound supports for career navigation. “Preparing students to be career-ready in fields they are passionate about is vital to our institution,” says Lorain County Community College President Marcia J. Ballinger, Ph.D. “Through the Mandel Humanities to Career Program, even more Lorain County Community College students will learn how an education in the humanities and liberal arts serves as a launchpad to rewarding careers in a variety of fields.”
Each pilot reflects the needs and assets of the grantee institutions, their student bodies, and the local labor markets in which they are situated. The Mandel Foundation looks forward to partnering with Bunker Hill Community College, Lorain County Community College, and Northern Virginia Community College—three leading institutions that have significant track records testing and scaling educational reforms. “Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is nationally recognized for connecting students to academic and workforce pathways that result in meaningful economic returns. We are grateful to the Mandel Foundation for this important investment in elevating the real world, labor market value of the essential skills and abilities gained through an education in the humanities,” said Anne M. Kress, president of NOVA.
The three pilots will be accompanied by a program of research and evaluation to better understand how change can be achieved through a range of interventions and in diverse contexts. The Foundation will continue its work with Jobs for the Future as the initiative’s lead evaluator and strategy partner.