Texas stacks energy credentials

Texas community colleges are creating stackable credentials for oilfield workers, reports Inside Higher Ed. Oil and gas workers can qualify for an entry-level job, then return to college for more training.

Community colleges are working hard to keep up with petrochemical companies’ demand for workers. The jobs pay well, and many associate degree-holders earn $50,000 to $70,000 a year right out of college.

Students can start at one college, move to follow the jobs and enroll at a new college without losing credits.

Several community colleges have teamed up to create a central core of 36 credits toward a 60-credit associate degree aimed at oil and gas workers. Those courses, which include 15 credits’ worth of accreditor-mandated general education requirements and 21 credits of specialized soft and mechanical skills training, are designed to transfer around the state.

Each credential “stacks” on the one before. “Courses for shorter-term certificates count toward degrees,” notes Inside Higher Ed.

A “marketable skills achievement award,” which takes 9 to 14 credits, leads to an entry-level job.

Next up is a “level one” certificate, which usually takes a year to complete. For example, a basic certificate in process technology at Brazosport is 15 credits. Others can be more involved, with 18 or more credits.

Level two certificates follow. They tend to be somewhat-specialized 30-credit programs. Eventually students can wrap up 60-credit associate degrees in production or processing technology.

That’s not even the last step. Some community colleges have partnered with four-year institutions to create transitions to bachelor’s programs for oil and gas workers. Brazosport, for example, has a transfer agreement with the nearby University of Houston at Victoria for a bachelor’s in applied technology.

Large employers, such as Chevron and Dow Chemical, require an associate degree for new hires. But they’ll hire interns who are working on a degree for as much as $22 an hour.

Texas colleges plan to create stackable credentials for other fields, such as allied health careers and information technology.

North Carolina’s community colleges have created a “green jobs” pathway.

2-year enrollment dips by 2% in Texas

Community college enrollment dipped by 2 percent in Texas this fall, reports the Houston Chronicle. The state’s improving economy may be drawing students back to the workforce. However, public universities and for-profit career colleges, saw slight enrollment gains.

“It was a bit of a wake-up call,” said Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “We’ve been going gangbusters on enrollment since 2000.”

Areas of the state undergoing an economic boom, such as with lucrative energy jobs near the Eagle Ford Shale natural gas and oil formation, are experiencing more substantial enrollment declines than other regions.

“It’s hard to keep a student in school to get their associate’s when they can go make $65,000 a year as a truck driver,” Chavez said.

Other factors are changes in federal Pell Grant rules: Students no longer can get “year-round” aid covering the summer semester. In addition, the state has fewer 18-year-olds. Finally, students are required now to be vaccinated against meningitis, a rule that’s discouraging some potential enrollees, according to a report by the Coordinating Board.

Go to college or take an energy job?

Some Montana teens are choosing high-paying jobs in the booming energy industry over college, reports the New York Times from the town of Sidney.  It’s a “risky” decision, opines the Times. What if the oil and gas drilling boom is shut down by environmental regulation?

. . .  with unemployment at more than 12 percent nationwide for young adults and college tuition soaring, students here on the snow-glazed plains of eastern Montana said they were ready to take their chances.

“I just figured, the oil field is here and I’d make the money while I could,” said Tegan Sivertson, 19, who monitors pipelines for a gas company, sometimes working 15-hour days. “I didn’t want to waste the money and go to school when I could make just as much.”

Less than a year after proms and homecoming games, teenagers like Mr. Sivertson now wake at 4 a.m. to make the three-hour trek to remote oil rigs. They fish busted machinery out of two-mile-deep hydraulic fracturing wells and repair safety devices that keep the wells from rupturing . . .

One  high school senior makes $24 an hour as a cashier in Williston, N.D., the epicenter of the boom. She plans to work for a few years, save her money and move to Denver.

In eastern Montana, counselors say “more and more students were interested in working for at least a year after graduation and getting technical training instead of a four-year degree.”

Last year, one-third of the graduating seniors at Sidney High School headed off to work instead of going to college or joining the military, a record percentage. Some found work making deliveries to oil rigs, doing construction and repairing machinery. Others decided to first seek training as welders or diesel mechanics, which pay more than entry-level jobs.

Meanwhile, enrollment at Dawson Community College in Glendive, about an hour from Sidney, has fallen to 225 students from 446 just a few years ago, as fewer local students pursue two-year degrees.

People are moving to the energy belt in search of jobs at good wages, but even more jobs are expected.

Shay Findlay found a job repairing drilling pumps the day after he was graduated from high school. At 19, he earns $40,000 a year and enjoys his work. His friends are home from college for Christmas break with “stories of dorm-room dramas and drunken scuffles with campus police officers,” reports the Times.  “They’re going to have to come back and look for work,” he said. “And there’s nothing but oil fields over here.”

Who’s taking the risk? Findlay’s party-hearty friends are very likely to drop out of college owing money. Honor-roll students with the ability and motivation to earn a degree — petroleum engineering pays very, very well — will benefit from going straight to university. But that’s not who’s earning a welding certificate or working as repairmen, drivers and cashiers.

The New York Times is worried about the risk to the “college-industrial complex,” writes Heather Mac Donald. “Too many high-school graduates are reflexively going to college as it is, without a clue what they are doing there or how to take advantage of higher education.” They aren’t studying the great ideas of Western civilization, she writes. Most will “double major in communications and binge drinking.”

NC creates ‘stackable’ energy jobs curricula

North Carolina community colleges have consolidated “green” jobs’ programs, creating stackable credentials that let students move easily between jobs and advanced schooling, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Using employer feedback on core skills and competencies, the 58-college system created 47 new courses, revised 219 and dropped 92.

“Our goal was not to create one-off programs” at individual campuses, said Scott Ralls, the system’s president. “It’s a curriculum that cuts across 58 colleges.”

. . . The program, named the Code Green Super Curriculum Improvement Project, affects academic areas related to building, energy, environment, transportation and engineering technology.  More than 80 curriculum standards were consolidated into 32 revised ones, based on “career clusters” like architecture and construction technology (see box).

In many cases, students can earn an industry-recognized certificate with 12 to 18 credits, find a job and return later to any community college in the state to work toward a higher-level certificate or degree.

In addition to technical courses, the new energy credentials include “employability competencies,” such as working in teams.

Training for energy jobs must match needs

The enthusiasm for “green jobs” will lead to disappointment unless community colleges align alternative energy programs with workforce needs in their area, writes Ellie Ashford on Community College Times.

Research the local market and talk to alternative energy employers before creating a new program, advises Todd Cohen of the American Association of Community College’s SEED (Sustainability, Education and Economic Development) Center.

 While a growing number of community colleges are investing in solar, wind and smart grid technology programs, it might make more sense for some to add alternative energy components to existing programs, such as incorporating alternative fuels into automotive technology programs, Cohen said.

In Michigan, Lansing Community College revised its associate degree in energy management in 2010 when it realized graduates weren’t finding jobs. There’s little solar or wind energy in Michigan, but there are jobs in energy auditing and weatherization. The college now offers an associate degree in alternative energy engineering technologies that prepares graduates to do energy audits.

Hagerstown Community College in Maryland offers an associate degree in alternative energy technology plus a two-year certification in solar and wind energy installation and service.  The college added alternative energy courses to existing programs, such as HVAC, plumbing and electricity. “That allows us to produce people with fundamental skills that are employable in many other industries,” said Anthony Valente, an instructor in industrial and energy technology.

A five-story science and technology building on the HCC campus opened in January with solar and wind systems that are used for teaching and also offset some of the college’s energy costs. The building uses geothermal wells to heat classrooms and has a rainwater retention system for irrigation and non-potable water.
In addition, HCC is building an “energy house,” a residential structure with alternative energy systems that will be used as a laboratory, where students can practice installing solar and geothermal systems, change air flow and conduct energy audits.
The local demand for alternate energy workers is only “moderate,” says Valente, but technicians with an associate degree and experience can earn $25 to $35 an hour.

Demand is high for wind technicians

Community colleges are training wind technicians in North Dakota and other states, reports AP.

“The demand (for wind technicians) is such that some (colleges) have been trying to keep companies away from the program because they want everybody to graduate first,” said Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association. “In some cases, students are being picked up after only a couple of months.”

Last year, 3,200 new wind turbines were installed across the nation as power companies responded to the push for more green energy. It brought the total number of towers with wind-catching blades to more than 25,000, the association said.

The structures vary in size and energy output, but Azua said a general rule is that a two-person operation and maintenance team are needed for every 10 turbines.

Iowa Lakes Community College has expanded its training program, but employer demand is growing even faster. Some students get three or four job offers, program director Al Zeitz told AP.  “Employers are coming to us saying, ‘We want to hire 50 people this summer. We want to hire 100 people this summer.”

Sun shines bright on Arizona Western

Arizona Western College will be fully powered by the sun, reports Community College Times. The college expects to save $3.5 million in 10 years and more than $15 million in 20 years — and provide training for students in five types of solar technologies.

New curriculum offerings at the college will range from solar technician certificates to renewable energy degree programs, and partnerships are in the works with universities for continuing bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees.

Demand for solar-energy technicians should be high: Numerous solar projects are planned in Arizona and other Southwest states.

‘Green construction’ grows in Michigan

Thanks to a “green construction trades” program at Macomb Community College, Dianne Impullitti plans to start a business doing energy audits for homes and buildings. She’ll hire her fellow graduates to weatherize homes, reports the Oakland Press.

Laid off more than two years ago from an auto tooling job, Impullitti will graduate this month with an associate degree, a certificate in renewable energy and two non-credit certifications in different types of construction. She’ll also be certified in construction safety and health by the Michigan Occupational Safety & Health Administration and be eligible to take the state builder’s license examination.

Energy-efficiency jobs are growing in Michigan and some employers say they’re having trouble finding workers with “green” skills.

The green construction class at Macomb was a 40-hour per week, 11-week course that taught its 10 students all aspects of construction, de-construction and weatherization techniques, said Jim Hielscher, who served as the lead instructor for the program. As part of the class, the students constructed a full-size home — which featured about 5 square feet of living space. The building is just large enough to house a high efficiency furnace, a solar panel, a high efficiency window — and lots of insulation. The building was made in a modular format to allow future students at the college to de-construct, move and re-construct the home many times over as part their studies.

“We didn’t just want to sit in a classroom and talk about energy efficiency,” Hielscher said. “We wanted to put our hands on a building and not just talk about where air can enter or escape from a house, but see it.”

Lessons learned from the green construction pilot will be applied to new training programs and classes, college officials say.