Sectoral Training at the City Colleges of Chicago: A Case Study



The City Colleges of Chicago have a unique, innovative way of providing students with the education and training employers require to get good-paying jobs that are in local demand: Each of the seven colleges in the system, which are spread geographically across the city of Chicago, is deemed a “Center of Excellence” and leads career and technical education for a particular industry. These are high-demand industries: healthcare, education, advanced manufacturing and engineering, transportation distribution and logistics, and business and professional services.

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.

In this project, we focused on how the Center of Excellence model at two colleges (one focused on advanced manufacturing, the other on early childhood education) shaped the colleges’ relationships with local employers, student support services, curriculum, capital investments, and work-based learning opportunities.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The goal of this project was to explore the City Colleges of Chicago’s (CCC) Center of Excellence model and whether and how this model allows the colleges to be responsive to employers’ needs for skilled labor. The project also explored how the model delivered training to prepare students for good-quality jobs with the potential for career advancement. The project also explored whether and how the Centers of Excellence connect with the state American Job Centers on their campuses and how these relationships can be further enhanced. The project focused on two popular career tracks in the model.

  • Education at Harry S. Truman College: This Center built a diverse set of programs focused on sub-associate degree programs (such as early childhood education), transfer-focused programs for those that want to be certified teachers, and post-certification credentialing programs, where educators can earn additional certificates as part of their professional development. The college has seen strong success in building the post-certification programs, which provides a unique angle into how those with bachelor’s degrees (or other credentials) further their education and training.
  • Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering at Richard Daley College: This is a high-demand, higher-paying career and technical education field with sub-associate entry tracks. Studying this program provided insight on employer involvement in curriculum development.

Through interviews conducted with administrators, instructors, advisors, and researchers at two of the Centers of Excellence, the project explored the following research questions:

  1. In what ways does the Centers of Excellence model help colleges deepen their knowledge of an industry and their needs? How, if at all, does this facilitate connections with employers and workforce agencies (such as Job Centers) or help develop work-based learning opportunities for students?
  2. How is the Centers of Excellence model operationalized within colleges? In what ways does it inform the development of career pathways, programming, and supports provided to students within specific industries?
  3. What are the strengths of the Centers of Excellence model and what aspects could be further strengthened? What lessons does the Center of Excellence model hold for other colleges and systems?

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The City Colleges of Chicago project was a descriptive study that sought to explore the Centers of Excellence model as a potential method for offering sectoral training in the community college setting. The study also explored the potential benefits, risks, and lessons of implementing this model. To answer the study’s research questions, the research team conducted interviews with college leaders, staff, instructors, affiliated employers, and job center employees at two sites: Richard Daley College and Harry S. Truman College at the City Colleges of Chicago.