pima community college.jpg

Pima Community College has received a $1 million grant from Bank of America to launch a new job-training initiative of apprenticeships and career pathways for students, and especially students of color, to enter the local workforce.

Micro-pathways, often called “nano degrees,” are two or more stackable credentials that a student can earn to find employment in high-growth careers. For example, PCC now offers a Google IT professional support certificate program. Google designed the curriculum and provides the learning modules online, while PCC provides student support.   

Pima will now be expanding micro-pathways into other fields, focusing on automated industrial technology, construction trades and emergency medical services predominantly in a non-credit hour format, according to PCC vice president of workforce development Ian Roark. However, micro-pathways will transfer into credit certificates and degrees at the college. For example, its Google IT certification is counted towards the college’s cybersecurity program. PCC is also slated to start a new curriculum for entry-level cloud computing careers in June 2021 by partnering with Amazon Web Services. 

PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert cites COVID-19 as one of the key reasons for the college further developing micro-pathways. 

“Addressing this crisis requires us to develop new and more flexible credentials that are more responsive to the rapidly-changing needs of the labor market,” Lambert said in a press release. 

The pandemic has been further impacting workforce development at the college. In August, PCC entered into the Reskilling and Recovery Network administered by the National Governors Association and the American Association of Community Colleges. The network’s main goal is to close equity gaps that have widened with the pandemic with women and people of color. 

“People of color in low-wage jobs are those that were most negatively impacted by the disease itself as well as the economic downturn,” Roark said. “These were the areas of our community that were being most negatively impacted by Industry 4.0 advancement of automation and an over-abundance of low-wage jobs in our community.” 



The college plans to design additional micro-pathways for students based on the most in-demand careers for the area from federal labor market research.  

“We already are working with Raytheon and in developing apprenticeships and have some registered apprenticeships there.” Roark said. 

This funding is part of a $25 million nationwide jobs initiative for students of color from Bank of America that also saw Arizona State University- Downtown Phoenix receive $1 million.

Pima’s $1 million grant will be divided into four annual payments with the college’s philanthropic  arm, the Pima Foundation, distributing funds. One full-time program manager will be hired alongside a part-time coordinator both to support work-based learning expansion. Nearly all of the remaining budget will be for supplemental pay for faculty adjuncts and industry partners to develop content for the career “micro-pathways” in partnership with Pima Online. This leaves about $8,000 a year for miscellaneous expenses such as supplies and local travel, according to PCC Dean of Workforce Development and Continuing Education Amanda Abens.

“Within the expansion of work-based learning and apprenticeships is funding of staff time to be able to work with employers,” Abens said. “We can expand the number of students at Pima that all have access to a quality work-based learning opportunity.”

The Bank of America grant comes on the heels of several important workforce development announcements from the college this fall. 

PCC also received $100,000 for its micro-pathways program to enroll at least 600 students in micro-pathways over the next two years from the Education Design Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund. This is part of a national $2.5 million fund by the nonprofit Education Design lab, which draws its funding from a number of sources including the Charles Koch Foundation and Wal-Mart. 

The college is aggressively moving to expand its micro-pathways offerings, with Roark saying that the clock is ticking on its target of 600 students over two years with Education Design Lab. Pathways need to be developed, offered and completed by 600 students to meet that goal.



Joe Giddens is a Pima Community College student and Tucson Local Media intern.