When community colleges and K-12 school districts work together on career and technical education (CTE) partnerships, younger students gain a better understanding of what kinds of jobs to aim for – and how to prepare for them.
Several of those collaborative efforts were highlighted this week at a meeting of college and school district officials hosted by the American Association of Community Colleges and AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
There are plenty of technology-related jobs in Northern Virginia that don’t require a degree, said Chad Knights, provost for information and engineering technologies at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). Jobs with an Amazon data center, for example, have starting salaries that pay $90,000 to employees with the right certifications.
But due to the affluent, highly educated population in the region, where parents want their children to go to a four-year college, “it’s challenging to show the value of skills-based professions,” Knights said.
NOVA reaches out to middle and high school students with STEM-related activities through its SySTEMic program, which hosts summer camps and robotics competitions. The one-week camps cost the same as childcare, but have the added bonus of getting kids interested in robotics and engineering, said SySTEMic Director Josh Labrie.
The camps serve 800 to 1,000 students, mostly in grades 4-9, every summer in partnership with eight school districts. NOVA’s business partners help cover the cost, so no one is excluded if they can’t afford the fee.
Robotics is a big draw, although there are camps focusing on electronics, cyber security, coding and other STEM topics, Labrie said. Most camps are held at the school site and some on the NOVA campus. At the end of the week, parents are invited to see what their children experienced.
“That’s a great opportunity to tell them about technical education,” Labrie said, and when the camps are held at NOVA campus, parents and students learn first-hand about the college’s programs.
In another major initiative that gets school-age children involved in robotics, NOVA hosts the statewide VEX Robotics Competition. It’s like a “sports infrastructure” for teams of middle and high school students who build robots that compete against each another, Labrie said.
NOVA provides free training for team mentors, which benefits the college by leading to more dual enrollment and more participation in summer camps – and more interest in technology programs.
Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) in Nevada has a close relationship with the Washoe County School District focusing on CTE. The school system has a high school based at TMCC for dual-enrolled students, and its Academy of Arts and Technology – which is for career-minded students who graduate with certifications that lead to jobs – is across the street from the college’s Truckee campus.
The school district had an 84 percent graduation rate last year, but the rate for CTE students was 94 percent, said Superintendent Traci Davis.
In addition to offering CTE programs in every high school, the school district has “signature academies” that expose students to career pathways. It also hosts an annual Chart the Course event for families, starting with parents of kindergartners, that provides information on CTE, how students can get internships and why CTE is a good bet for a secure future.
To meet demand from employers, TMCC has a newly renovated facility with a new manufacturing simulation lab, as well labs for welding, HVAC, systems, robotics and other careers, said President Karin Hilgerson.
Northern Nevada is experiencing “explosive job growth,” with 52,000 new jobs projected by 2020 in the region’s five counties in such fields as advanced manufacturing and software development. Those jobs are expected to pay an average of $30 an hour, and 80 percent of them will require skills obtained from programs offered at the college.
TMCC has several strong industry partnerships, including the Panasonic Preferred Pathway, a cost-effective hybrid program with 500 students and just two full-time faculty. Since much of the instruction is online, students can start whenever they want – they don’t have to wait for the start of the semester – and can get through the program at their own pace.
At its Nevada facility, Panasonic makes batteries for car manufacturer Tesla, another company with a strong partnership with TMCC and the school district. About 50 high school students work at Tesla while earning certificates. Those who complete the program can get a job with a $50,000 starting salary or enroll in TMCC and pursue an associate degree.