Bolstering Workforce Pathways at City Colleges of Chicago

Engineer showing apprentices how to work a machine

For its inaugural postsecondary project, the PROMISE Center is working with City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) and its Centers of Excellence model, which blends academic and workforce training in high-demand industries (e.g., health care, business, and advanced manufacturing) to help students gain the skills needed to access livable wage jobs.

Nearly 90% of CCC students are of color, and PROMISE is examining whether and how CCC is reaching this population to ensure they have access to the full range of Centers of Excellence training, regardless of their location, race, or ethnicity. We also seek to understand the successes and limitations of this model from the communities that CCC seeks to serve. Our goal is to understand whether and how access may impede opportunity and work with CCC to consider new approaches to effectively recruit and support the success of these communities.

Working Together to Strengthen the Model

PROMISE Center researchers are seeking to help strengthen this model by adapting and testing strategies from best-in-class sectoral programs. At the same time, we aim to bolster key aspects of CCC’s Centers of Excellence programming, including their connections with regional industry representatives and employers; use of real-time labor market data to inform programming and student decision-making; and integration of work-based learning into training programs.

The PROMISE Center and CCC are engaging leadership, faculty, staff, and students in a collaborative effort to refine the model and improve its implementation. Drawing on lessons from effective sectoral programs, this work will include the development of processes, resources, and tools to:

  • Investigate whether and what populations have access to different Centers of Excellence programs based on their locations and race or ethnicity;
  • Help CCC analyze programs and practices using labor market information to ensure they are built around Chicago’s employment needs;
  • Develop systems to more effectively engage employers in CCC’s program development;
  • Build and integrate systematic approaches to work-based learning;
  • Create data systems that can help the district and CCC colleges measure and monitor their Centers of Excellence programs based on students’ academic and labor market outcomes; and
  • Ensure that programs and practices align with the needs and perspectives of communities that CCC is serving.

The PROMISE Center is providing technical, implementation, and evaluation assistance to CCC to help develop and establish proof-of-concept for this revised Centers of Excellence model Our aim is also to share lessons with the field about the successes and challenges of building more systematic approaches to workforce training in community college settings.


The PROMISE Center is directly supported by the AIR Equity Initiative, AIR’s $100+ million five-year investment to advance equity in several important areas: workforce development, education, public safety and policing, and health. The AIR Equity Initiative is committed to investing in the generation and use of high-quality evidence that address the harmful effects of segregation by race and place.

Elizabeth Rutschow
Managing Researcher and Acting Director, PROMISE Center
Harry Holzer
AIR Scholar