As go-to training providers, community colleges rely heavily on data-driven insights when they seek sustainable and long-term partnerships with employers and industry. Many colleges start with needs assessments when they begin to fine tune local demand. However, each major source of regional labor demand data comes with deficiencies:
- Demographic data is broad in scope, and lagging indicators aren’t accurate predictions of future growth.
- Labor Market Intelligence (including data gathered through platforms such as EMSI and O* NET), often include imprecise definitions of skills and credentials needed for workforce development programs.
- Business surveys represent self-reported needs and can only offer a narrow vision of the industry.
Without clear, consistent, and reliable data, launching training and credit programs carries the risk of insufficient enrollments to sustain new initiatives. Student voice, an often overlooked source of data, helps colleges avoid some of these common pitfalls.
Identify student demand for sustainable program investment
Chesapeake College wanted to repurpose a vacant campus building and used a needs assessment to identify sustainable program opportunities for the space. Rather than simply relying on traditional labor market demand, business community, and state labor data, the college added student surveys to validate all three sources of data.
The college emailed a survey to 12,000 workforce development students from the last three years. Students identified the additional training they would value across the nine career clusters that the college identified as potential investments. Nearly 500 responses were triangulated with the results of a business needs survey and regional labor data provided by the Maryland Department of Labor.
Chesapeake prioritized the five programs and course areas where state, business, and student interest aligned and where the college had the capacity to make future investments. Agriculture had the potential to be a quick success since most of the infrastructure needed already existed. After investing $10,000, the new agriculture program doubled enrollment projections, signaling that the student surveys were able to pinpoint opportunities that work for both businesses and students.