At least in part because of Obama’s American Graduation Initiative, the higher education community now understands that community colleges are important. It’s a little unclear what community colleges should actually do to be a force for good in the economy and in education, however. Well, from Diverse Issues in Higher Education comes news that experts have proposed at least three new ideas:

John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, said the “Obama administration recognizes the potential for community colleges to help prepare our work force of the future.” He added that the administration’s proposed American Graduation Initiative and recommendations in the center’s three papers “can spur” the changes that would be necessary to see dramatic improvements in U.S. community colleges.

The three papers are:

Re-imagining Community Colleges in the 21st Century: A Student-Centered Approach to Higher Education.” This paper argues that community colleges will be most effective when they change to address developmental education, vocational-occupational education, and university transfer.

Strong Students, Strong Workers: Models for Student Success through Workforce Development and Community College Partnerships.” This paper focuses on jobs, maintaining that the integration of education with occupational and vocational training will make community colleges more focused on the skills students need. The paper also recommends incorporating support services for low-income students into community college programs.

Training Tomorrow’s Workforce: Community College and Apprenticeship as Collaborative Routes to Rewarding Careers.” This paper says that apprenticeship programs will be the most effective way to help community college students obtain high-demand jobs. The desire for a better job is, after all, why many people attend community college.

This is a start. Despite the fact that the Center for American Progress published all three of these papers, they do recommend different strategies to improve community college effectiveness. Without spectacular changes in the way community colleges are funded, staffed, and managed, it won’t be possible to implement all of these suggestions.

Then again, maybe it’s spectacular changes that are needed.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer