Getting America Back to Work

Posted by Carlos Cortez on October 19, 2020 at 1:40 PM

A Case for the Expansion of Intensive Career Training Programs and Free College Tuition for Adult Learners

As of May 28, 36.5 million Americans filed unemployment insurance, a number far worse than the 2.7 million claims most economists were expecting and predicting.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported a loss of 20.5 million jobs in April 2020, which increased the unemployment rate to 14.7%, setting new Post-World War II records.


Joblessness remains pervasive throughout the United States, even as state economies reopen — Just last week claims increased to 898,000, holding well above the pre-pandemic high point of 695,000. Employees are not being brought back to work in the same numbers they were displaced, nor at a fast pace. The shutdown caused by the pandemic has extended to months, and for some workers, much longer without an end in sight. Many industries are not sure if or when they will return to normal operations.

There is no one answer to this problem, but there is certainly an answer that makes financial sense: provide free training to adults who need to reskill and put this responsibility on the community colleges throughout the nation.

Tens of millions of Americans will require short-term, intensive career education to make themselves more employable. Only one sector of the public education system delivers fast, free job training that leads to livable wages: adult noncredit education.

A prime example is San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE), California’s largest providers of noncredit career education, offering more than 75 free career training certificate programs that are usually available at seven campuses throughout the City of San Diego, but due to temporary closures, are now being taught online.

SDCE programs take only two to six months to complete. Any adult resident of California can obtain credentials in dozens of program areas (e.g. culinary arts, coding, digital media, and nursing) without paying tuition or enrollment fees.

Only 3% of community college students are currently enrolled in short-term, noncredit vocational programs. As millions of residents will soon need job training to return to the workplace, this need will skyrocket.

The need is both critical and immediate. We must invest in the modernization and expansion of noncredit job training opportunities for adults. SDCE has been leading this charge and is an example of what can be done quickly, professionally and successfully. 

It might have been COVID 19 that prompted every higher education institution across the nation to ramp up online classes. But at SDCE, something far more innovative has launched — ICOM Academy.

ICOM Academy is a digital platform that could potentially house hundreds of online career options for adults, as California’s first fully accredited online noncredit institute. Initial programs focus on pathways in Automotive, Business, Child Development, Digital Media, Healthcare, and Information Technology.

ICOM Academy delivers fully online career education certificates to support California’s working adults who need fast, free career training in a flexible learning environment. This new educational platform launched in September 2020. By January, ICOM Academy will deliver 19 career education certificates entirely online. 

Pathways for adult noncredit students into credit programs are also critical. Many of the noncredit programs at SDCE articulate, through credit by exam, to SDCCD’s three credit colleges: San Diego City, San Diego Mesa, and San Diego Miramar. The San Diego Promise covers four semesters and can be used at SDCCD colleges for a vocational award or for the general education requirements needed for an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree.

SDCE provides the only Promise program for adult noncredit students in the state. We raise funding to provide San Diego Promise scholarships to students who complete a noncredit certificate program. In addition to covering the cost of tuition and fees, we provide students with $1000 cash grant to offset textbook costs, course material fees, and other incidental expenses. We recognize that many students are not prepared for college when they exit high school, so SDCE has established an alternative pathway for students to attend college later in their lives.

SDCE is demonstrating daily what can be done to spread the benefits of a free college education to every student in the country. Now its time for other states and community colleges to meet the challenge of economic recovery posed by the pandemic.






Carlos Osvaldo Cortez, Ph.D., presently serves as the president of San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE), one of the four divisions of the San Diego Community College District, the seventh largest community college system in the United States. SDCE is the eleventh largest institution in the California Community College system, out of 116 by headcount. In this capacity, he oversees more than 40,000 students annually at seven campuses and over 200 off-site locations. Cortez is also an adjunct faculty at John Hopkins University, New York University, and the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests center on the role of educators and administrators of color in the historical development of American social welfare and education policy. Cortez is also an expert in the area of promoting equity and access in urban education through literacy and policy initiatives. Full bio >>


We can't do this alone!

Our goal is to make higher education a possibility for every American, without regard to their financial circumstances.

We have a lot to do and not much time to do it, so your support is critical for our campaign to succeed. It’s with your investment that we can fundamentally reform how higher education is financed in this country, opening the doors to a more equitable society.

If you agree with our goal, our plan, and the urgency of the problem, we ask that you give what you can to help us write the next chapter in our nation’s history of continuously expanding access to universal, free education.

The Campaign for Free College Tuition is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization established in the State of Washington in 2014 to educate parents, students, the higher education community, policy makers and taxpayers about efforts needed to fundamentally reform our nation’s system for financing higher education. This website and CFCT’s educational outreach activities are made possible through generous individual and foundation support.