Press Release: New Middle-Skill STEM State Policy Framework Paves the Way for Increased Economic Opportunities for Historically Underserved Students

Published oct. 15, 2014

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Silver Spring, MD (October 15, 2014) - To help states and community colleges strengthen pipelines into STEM careers that do not require a four-year degree, Achieving the Dream and Jobs for the Future have created a Middle-Skill STEM State Policy Framework.

Recent Brookings Institution research shows that STEM jobs represent 20% of all jobs in the United States. Workers with sub-baccalaureate credentials are qualified for half of all STEM jobs; with annual salaries that average more than $50,000, these jobs offer a significant wage premium. Thus these “middle-skill” STEM jobs represent an unprecedented opportunity for historically underserved students who disproportionately enroll at community colleges, and are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields. 

“This framework provides comprehensive, practical guidance to states and community colleges to enable them to prepare the STEM workforce that local employers are seeking,” said William Trueheart, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream. “Our organization is singularly focused on helping community colleges build capacity to ensure student success, and this includes making stronger connections between colleges and employers in key fields like STEM.”

The framework, the first to highlight concrete state policy levers and strategies for supporting the development of structured middle-skill STEM pathways in community colleges, lays out five major recommendations: 

  1. Create pathways to careers: Ensure that STEM programs meet employer needs 
  2. Open doors to STEM: Improve math preparation and developmental education to boost student success
  3. Focus on student completion: Create new models that lead to degree attainment
  4. Make informed decisions: Improve data collection and data use to enhance transparency, accountability, effectiveness and equity
  5. Provide incentives for success to both students and community colleges: Encourage innovation and reward better outcomes for STEM students and the STEM workforce

“At Jobs for the Future, we are committed to helping those struggling to succeed in today’s economy,” said Maria Flynn, senior vice president of Jobs for the Future. “To that end, this Middle-Skill STEM State Policy Framework provides concrete advice for how states can improve academic and career pathways for students in our community colleges, thereby opening up rewarding STEM opportunities. It’s the right work at the right time."

Noting the value of the framework as a resource to state policymakers and community colleges for addressing workforce issues, Dr. David Levinson, president of Norwalk Community College and vice president for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) at the Board of Regents for Higher Education said, “This STEM framework dovetails with Connecticut’s economic development strategy as it focuses on areas of [academic] concentration that our students need to master in order to enjoy prosperous lives. STEM disciplines will play a prominent role as we craft ‘Transform CSCU 2020,’ which will guide our future as a 17-college and university system.”

Dr. Mike Snider, project director at the Ohio Association of Community Colleges echoes this assessment of the framework: “The Ohio Association of Community Colleges will use the STEM Policy Framework as a guide to ensure that our 23 community colleges are well supported as they build structured pathways to middle-skill STEM opportunities for our students, particularly our underserved students.” 

The framework’s recommendations are based on a yearlong initiative to launch STEM Regional Collaboratives in three states (Connecticut, Florida and Ohio) and an intensive engagement with four additional states (Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Virginia) to adopt middle-skill STEM state policy agendas. This work, made possible through generous funding from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, enabled Achieving the Dream and Jobs for the Future to identify effective ways in which states can support community colleges in building middle-skill STEM pathways that help students meet their academic and career goals. 

In the coming months, Achieving the Dream and Jobs for the Future will work with several states to implement the framework and continue to support community colleges as they build middle-skill STEM pathways. 

Achieving the Dream, Inc. is a national nonprofit that is dedicated to helping more community college students, particularly low-income students and students of color, stay in school and earn a college certificate or degree. Evidence-based, student-centered, and built on the values of equity and excellence, Achieving the Dream is closing achievement gaps and accelerating student success nationwide by: 1) guiding evidence-based institutional improvement, 2) leading policy change, 3) generating knowledge, and 4) engaging the public. Conceived as an initiative in 2004 by Lumina Foundation and seven founding partner organizations, today, Achieving the Dream is leading the most comprehensive non-governmental reform network for student success in higher education history. With over 200 institutions, more than 100 coaches and advisors, and 15 state policy teams—working throughout 34 states and the District of Columbia—the Achieving the Dream National Reform Network helps nearly 4 million community college students have a better chance of realizing greater economic opportunity and achieving their dreams.

Media contact: Lynn Reddy, 301.520.9940,

Jobs for the Future works with our partners to design and drive the adoption of education and career pathways leading from college readiness to career advancement for those struggling to succeed in today’s economy.