Venturing into bachelor’s degrees

Lorain County Community College President Marcia Ballinger, surrounded by students, announces LCCC’s first applied bachelor’s degree program in microelectronic manufacturing. (Photos: Amanda Kosty/AACC)

Three Ohio community colleges this week were approved to be the first in the state to offer select bachelor’s degrees.

Lorain County Community College (LCCC), Sinclair Community College and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College received state approval for their initial four-year degrees: LCCC will offer an applied baccalaureate in microelectronic manufacturing; Sinclair will offer two bachelor’s degrees, in aviation and in unmanned aerial systems; and Cincinnati State also will offer two baccalaureates, in land surveying and another in culinary and food science.

“This is one of the most important innovations in education in Ohio in our history. Mark this day,” said Sinclair President Steve Johnson.

LCCC already offered a few select bachelor’s degrees through a university partnership. But Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time it will offer baccalaureates on its own.

“We heard the needs of employers and responded,” said LCCC President Marcia Ballinger. “This is all about advanced manufacturing and growing a talent base to help companies not only compete, but grow and thrive especially as new technologies emerge.”

Although there are other engineering technology programs in LCCC’s service area offered at four-year institutions, there were none in microelectronic manufacturing, according to the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

“There was clear evidence of collaboration and agreements with multiple employers, including a paid internship program with employer commitments to hire interns and graduates of the programs,” state Chancellor John Carey wrote in a letter to the college notifying it of the state approval.

The three colleges still need approval from their accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, before they can offer the degrees.

Building on its success

In 2014, LCCC launched the state’s first associate degree program in mechatronics technology with a focus in micro electromechanical systems (MEMS). The program is one of only 16 in the United States and the only one of its kind in Ohio.

“We have a 100 percent placement rate for our current mechatronics technology associate degree,” said Johnny Vanderford, LCCC assistant professor and project manager for the mechatronics technology program. “Now we will be able to offer our students the opportunity to complete a pathway from certificate to bachelor’s degree in this highly specialized and in-demand field.”

Gov. John Kasich has set a target to have 65 percent of the state’s workforce earn an industry recognized credential or degree by 2025. He had introduced legislation several times to allow community colleges to offer baccalaureates in select fields. State lawmakers finally passed a bill last June. Subsequently, six community colleges put forward proposals that had to demonstrate employer demand among other criteria.

A personal story

Sherry Washington, who spoke Tuesday at a press conference hosted by LCCC, said she was motivated by her family to pursue an applied bachelor’s degree. The 45-year-old enrolled in the MEMS associate degree program in 2017 as she faced her last week of unemployment benefits. Washington had moved to an apartment with her two children and subsequently lost her job. She saw a flier for the MEMS program at the local Ohio Means Jobs center and decided to apply — a decision that she says changed her life.

A demonstration of the technology used at LCCC to prepare students for careers in microelectronic manufacturing.

“I could go to school part time and work part time, and in a couple of years, I would have an associate degree. How could I go wrong?” she said.

Washington was quickly hired as an intern at SMART Microsystems, which provides custom assembly services for industry and is housed in the same building as the MEMS program. She has since been hired as a part-time engineering technician and is earning enough to provide for her children while she completes her degree. She plans to continue at LCCC and earn her bachelor’s in microelectronics.

“This program has changed my life,” Washington said.

More than half of those who are enrolled in MEMS classes are nontraditional students, according to LCCC’s Vanderford.

“Some have degrees from other colleges but couldn’t find a job in their fields and want something that’s going to make them more be marketable in the job market,” he said. “Now we can help them get even farther ahead by offering this applied bachelor’s degree.”

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