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People go to a community college to help secure a well-paying job, but there’s often a mismatch between students’ goals and what employers in their communities need.
This is one of the challenges addressed by the American Association of Community Colleges’ 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges. The commission's landmark report, Reclaiming the American Dream, found “an overabundance of both adult and younger students planning to enroll in low-demand fields and a corresponding shortage of students planning to enroll in high-demand fields paying a family-supporting wage.”
However, a growing number of two-year colleges are tackling that issue by better aligning educational programs with the local labor market, strengthening student advising services and creating alternative, flexible programs to get students onto a productive career path.
In Kentucky, where there’s a shortage of skilled labor in advanced manufacturing, Owensboro Community and Technical College (OCTC) is taking a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to training people for those jobs.
The college designed a “SWAT team-like response” to meet the immediate needs of local employers, developed customized apprenticeship programs for incumbent workers and is “building bridges for entry-level production workers to attain the skills they need for advanced manufacturing positions,” said Cindy Fiorella, vice president of workforce solutions.
OCTC is also building "on-ramps" to postsecondary credentials for individuals with low skills who simply need a place to start, Fiorella said. Programs for those students focus on basic math, reading and problem solving.
“Time is the enemy for the working adult, so we try to use accelerated delivery options whenever possible,” Fiorella said. Students can access the training in multiple formats and multiple places, including the college classroom, workplace, satellite learning centers, public library or at home.
Because so many first-time or older returning students don't know how to navigate all their options, OCTC advisors walk them through the application and assessment process, explain the concepts of career ladders and lattices, and group them in a learning cohort with people in the same situation, such as dislocated workers.
“We’re going to talk to you about employment opportunities and make sure your first classes are building foundational skills and workforce skills at the same time. If you’re struggling, we’ll have somebody monitor your progress and, if needed, pull you out for additional supplemental instruction,” Fiorella said. “Some might perceive this as handholding. We perceive it as a facilitated entrance to college and a postsecondary career.
To understand employers’ needs and align the curricula to include the skills most critical to success on the job, OCTC works with organizations such as the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. and the Hancock County Industrial Foundation, as well as companies with plants in the area, including Toyota, Century Aluminum and the Domtar Corp., a paper manufacturer.
Meeting industry needs
Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) in Maryland has expanded its cybersecurity program in response to strong local demand for skilled workers in that field. There are 13,000 jobs in cybersecurity in Maryland, said Kelly Koermer, dean of business, computing and technology studies. Cybersecurity is AACC's fastest-growing program; the number of students in that field has grown from 40 in 2005 to 650 in 2012.
AACC is the lead college on the National STEM Consortium, which is using a $19.7-million federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant to help its 10 member colleges develop one or more programs of study that have been determined to lead to high-demand, well-paying jobs in their communities.
AACC, for example, is focusing on mechatronics as well as cybersecurity; Macomb Community College in Michigan is developing a program to train people for the region's expanding electric vehicle industry; and South Seattle Community College in Washington is concentrating on composite materials technology.
Faculty from the participating colleges sat down with industry leaders in their regions to identify the key skills and knowledge that workers need to work in these fields, Koermer said. They then used the input to design curricula, with the employers reviewing them and tweaking as needed.
“Instead of saying ‘We need technicians who know science and technology,’ this is targeted to specific job descriptions that employers are using to hire people,” Koermer said. For example, officials at ARINC, an international aerospace company with headquarters in Maryland, told AACC faculty they want to hire people for entry-level cybersecurity positions who understand hardware and software, the fundamentals of computers and can design and secure networks.
As requested by ARINC, AACC mapped its curriculum to the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, which was developed by a coalition of agencies led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
For students, “the curriculum is contextualized to what they will do on the job,” Koermer explained. Math instruction will directly relate to the kinds of problems companies want employees to solve.
AACC “looked at the curriculum, and instead of having topic a, and b and c in a vacuum, it all overlaps. We’re delivering an integrated, on-demand curriculum,” Koermer said. Such a comprehensive approach requires faculty to collaborate more closely and to be fmailiar with what is being taught in related classes, he said.
Ivy Tech Community College (ITCC) in Indiana has developed several alternative programs providing accelerated learning for people eager to get a job or advance in their career.
While most community colleges offer short-term certificates, Ivy Tech has gone a step farther by going through the time-consuming process of getting the federal government to approve those programs for financial aid. The college has about 50 of these short-term programs—for such positions as bookkeeper, payroll specialist, pastry culinarian, brakes and suspension technician, health care support specialist and electrocardiography technician.
These programs allow students to earn certificates from third-party credentialing organizations with just 18 to 29 credits, rather than the 30 credits required for most technical certification programs. There are fewer credits because these programs don’t include general education courses. Too many students who start community college get bogged down in developmental courses, said Rebecca Nickoli, vice president for corporate college services. Ivy Tech was interested in helping students attain credentials and ready for work without spending excessive time in remediation, she said.
Another approach to accelerated learning at Ivy Tech is the Ivy Institute of Technology. Students attend classes six hours a day, four days a week, with the same instructor accompanying a cohort through the program, Nickoli said. There are two institutes—in welding and mechatronics—and additional programs will be added this month in office administration, HVAC and automotive technology.
The curriculum was developed in partnership with employers, and there are certification exams embedded in the program. Math and English are engrained in the technical courses, so students don’t take separate general education courses. They do earn credits in those subjects which saves time if they want to pursue an associate degree later.
Another tool aimed at facilitating the school-to-career pathway is the “certification and training crosswalk” on the Ivy Tech website. The idea is to let people know quickly whether they can get credits for previous training, certifications or experience in the military or at a previous job.
“It’s more motivating to a student when they see, ‘I can get credits for things I know and can do,’” Nickoli said.
Ivy Tech also operates the ASAP program on three campuses, which allows students fresh out of high school to earn an associate degree in less than a year. Started two years ago with funding from Lumina Foundation, the ASAP program provides remediation to high school students so “they leave high school with a sense of accomplishment, feel they can do college-level work and are more likely to succeed,” Nickoli said.
“There’s such a national discussion about retention and completion right now, but students often don’t complete because of the lure of work or the absolute need to work and attend to family responsibilities,” Nickoli said. “These alternative programs try to take some of the distractions out of the mix, so students can stay motivated and move through school faster and not have to worry so much about financial concerns.”
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