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SOPHE – Enhancing the Public Health Workforce: The Expanding Role of Community Colleges

Community colleges have long traditions of training frontline health care professionals, yet their role in advancing the public health workforce has not been fully explored.  The March 2016 issue of Pedagogy in Health Promotion: The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (PHP) is devoted to “The Role of U.S. Community Colleges in Building the Public Health Workforce,” and the progress and potential of community colleges in producing a skilled workforce to address contemporary public health challenges.

“The theme issue provides a comprehensive look at the educational role that community colleges are beginning to play in the continuum of educating the public health workforce,” says Dr. Richard K. Riegelman, co-guest editor and founding dean of the Milken School of Public Health at George Washington University.  “With more than seven million students enrolled in over 1,100 community colleges, we have an exciting opportunity to help prepare students for public health careers.”

The theme issue includes 14 peer-reviewed commentaries, editorials, and articles, including two curricular frameworks.  The Public Health Generalist and Specializations framework is intended to provide opportunities for community college students to focus on general public health, health education, environmental health, or health administration courses and prepares them to transfer to baccalaureate-degree programs.

The Health Navigator framework is designed as an applied degree to prepare students for jobs as community health workers, patient navigators, and health insurance navigators.  According to a survey included in the issue, a minority of community colleges currently offer health navigator training options, but interest is rapidly growing in part due to the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Cynthia Wilson, co-guest editor of the theme issue and vice president of the League for Innovation for Community College, notes, “The League is excited about the opportunity to work with public health leaders to create closer connections with community partners in order to provide successful training and employment opportunities for public health students.”  The League represents more than 700 community colleges across the United States.

The PHP theme issue is an outgrowth of an effort launched in 2012 by the Association of Schools and Programs in Public Health, “The Framing the Future: The Second 100 Years of Public Health Task Force.” The Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), which published the theme issue, was part of a special task force to examine the role of community colleges in public health and is continuing to work with the League to connect public health leaders to local community colleges.

The entire 85-page theme issue is open access through March 31, at  A podcast with the co-guest editors and PHP editor in chief Dr. Stephen F. Gambescia, is also available.