Biden touts credits for apprenticeships

Giving college credit for apprenticeships will boost graduation rates and develop skilled workers, said Vice President Joe Biden at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual convention. He announced the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium, which  includes community colleges, businesses, labor unions and industry organizations.

The Obama administration hopes to “scale up to the national level the thousands of existing agreements between a single college and regional employer or union to provide credit for apprenticeships,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

The American Council on Education and the National College Credit Recommendation Service already evaluate apprenticeship experience and “make recommendations about how the apprenticeship experience translates into the traditional academic unit of credit hours.”

Consortium members will promise to accept those recommendations.

The Departments of Education and Labor will run the voluntary consortium.

Biden proposed expanding the apprenticeship model to fields such as allied health and information technology, says Matt Reed, who attended the speech. It’s not clear how this would work. 

In allied health fields,  students already can “move up the ranks through well-designed stackable programs,” earning as they learn. At his college, Holyoke, the Foundations of Health program is  ”conspicuously successful.”  

But I honestly don’t see how the apprenticeship model would work in IT. Apprenticeships work well when the craft takes time to learn, the roles are well-defined, and the field is structurally stable. Pipefitting is like that; moving water from here to there is still essentially the same process it was a generation ago. Apprenticeships also generally happen in unionized industries.  Construction tends to be heavily unionized, so it lends itself well.

IT doesn’t fit either bill. The content of the field changes rapidly, and its structure is in constant flux.  It’s relatively indifferent to credentials — in part because the field is in such flux — and it’s not exactly a hotbed of unionization.  IT has adopted the internship model much more than the apprenticeship model, both because interns are cheaper and because the industry doesn’t rely on clearly defined roles.  The field is rife with startups, which are notoriously averse to the kind of rankings that apprenticeships presume.

Another question: Do industry-trained apprentices need college degrees?

Revving up for Detroit’s rebound

Detroit is losing jobs and people. The city is bankrupt. Hopes for an economic rebound center on job training provided by the Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD, reports Community College Daily.

“When economic times get tough, community colleges do much more because we have to,” said Shawna Forbes, vice chancellor for WCCCD’s School of Continuing Education and Workforce Development.

Many manufacturing companies want employees with associate degrees. WCCCD worked with Detroit Employment Solutions Corp. (DESC) to select 100 people for a 19-week program that combines job training with internships at local companies. “We’re looking at quickly moving people along a career pathway,” said WCCCD Vice Chancellor George Swan. “People are not going to get a certificate and that’s it.”

WCCCD is “incredibly important in job growth,” and the planning and implementation of the strategic plan is clearly informed by the role the college can play, said Dan Kinkead, director of Detroit Future City.

The district is stepping up job training in growth areas such as advanced manufacturing, information technology and health data management.

A new science center specializes in training surgical technicians (pictured), dental assistants, phlebotomy technicians and nurses. The center also offers health exams to community residents.

Last year, WCCCD created a fast-track “IT boot camp” to train people for jobs with Infosys, Compuware, Quicken and other companies. “The program focused on people who worked in office automation or technology in the automobile industry and had been displaced or had worked with older computer systems and now need to upgrade their skills,” reports Community College Daily.

The college will open a center this winter for cybersecurity training.

Right Skills Now, launched last year, enables students to earn certifications in metalworking, then go on to train on advanced manufacturing equipment. Employers provide advice and work experience.

. . . the college is also gearing up for training people to work on a new light rail line that will link downtown Detroit to Pontiac, Mich. Construction on the highly automated, computer-based system is expected to start this spring, and there will be jobs for people trained in electromechanical systems, as well as signaling and communications systems.

New bus and shuttle systems will be linked with the light rail line, and a new high-speed rapid bus system, running in dedicated lanes, will link Detroit to Jackson, Mich. Two cohorts of 30 students each are in a WCCCD program on the operation and maintenance of these systems.

Detroit has seen growth in recent years in manufacturing, logistics and food and beverage processing. Quicken Loans moved to downtown Detroit in 2010. But the city lacks a skilled workforce. Twenty percent of residents haven’t completed high school.

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.

4-year grads turn to 2-year schools for job skills

Underemployed four-year graduates are enrolling in community colleges to learn job skills, reports the Chicago Tribune.

In 2010, Jessica Underwood graduated from Carthage College in Wisconsin “with a stellar academic record, a can-do attitude and a newly minted business degree.” Her bachelor’s degree was “just like a ticket to nowhere,” Underwood told the Trib. Despite sending as many as 10 job applications a day, she found only low-wage, low-skilled office, retail and telemarketing jobs.

 Three years after graduation, Underwood decided that she needed to reboot — and fast. At the College of DuPage, she enrolled in the paralegal certification program, which offered a robust hiring outlook, but also the chance to reinvent herself in only 18 months.

She owes $60,000 in student loans for her business degree.

Illinois community colleges are touting accelerated programs to help the underemployed get a fresh start.

At Prairie State College, the  ”Career in a Year” campaign boosted enrollment by 50 percent in programs training home inspectors and dialysis and pharmacy technicians.

Harper College‘s launch of a “fast track” advanced manufacturing program — certification in one semester, followed by a paid internship with a partner company — attracted a standing-room-only crowd.

More than ever, companies want people adept at communicating, critical thinking and problem solving — all hallmarks of a liberal arts education. Studies continue to show that people with a four-year degree earn more, on average, over the course of their lifetime than those without college degrees. But employers say there’s often a mismatch between what traditional colleges are producing and what they need.

“Middle-skills” jobs, which require a certificate or associate degree, can qualify graduates for middle-class paychecks. Demand is high in health care fields, information technology and manufacturing, reports the Tribune.

Iowa colleges focus on retraining, retention

Retraining adults for high-demand jobs and improving graduation rates are the priorities for Iowa community colleges, reports the Gazette. Half the students who enrolled in 2009-10 earned a credential or transferred within three years. Colleges are trying to improve that number.

Des Moines Area Community College is among the schools that now requires an orientation course for all students, said Jeremy Varner, administrator of the community colleges division with the Iowa Department of Education. Other colleges are putting resources into more advising and early-warning programs for when students begin to struggle, he said.

“Getting more through to graduation — that’s where a lot of that focus is,” Varner said.

Kirkwood Community College hopes its math “emporium” will improve retention, ’said Math and Science Dean Lori Woeste.

Students work in a computer lab where an instructor is always on hand for one-on-one discussion, and the students work at their own pace. . . . students signs up for the Prep for College Math course, where they demonstrate competency in the “modules” they are confident about and then focus their time on the areas where they need work, Woeste said.

College officials hope state funding will improve next year, easing the tuition burden on students and funding job training. Iowa is focusing on training workers for jobs in nursing, information technology and advanced manufacturing.

Job certificate students denied aid

More students are trying to earn vocational certificates, but most don’t qualify for federal student aid, reports the New York Times. Federal aid “goes overwhelmingly” to students in degree programs, while many certificate students have to pay their own way.

Federal financial aid, like Pell grants, is not available to students who take noncredit courses, and many certificate programs, whether to be a certified nurse’s aide or to fix air-conditioners and heating systems, are not for credit.

Suri Duitch, dean of continuing education at the City University of New York, said federal programs often treated certificate students like second-class citizens. “These programs are less expensive than the degree programs at many four-year schools, but this student population generally has fewer resources,” said Ms. Duitch, whose university has more than 220,000 students in nondegree programs.

Federal job training funds are limited and workers who want to upgrade their skills may not qualify.

Vocational certificates are growing in popularity. In a few months to a few years, workers can improve their employability and earnings significantly, especially in technical fields. Men with certificates in computer/information services earned $72,498 a year on average, more than  54 percent of men with bachelor’s degrees, according to a Georgetown study; women earned more than 64 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees.

Yet, Northern Virginia Community College dropped plans to offer information technology certificates because too few students could afford the course. NOVA also had to delay its program for certified nurses’ aides to give students time to come up with the money. Ana Bausher, who earns $250 a week as a part-time clerk for United Parcel Service, “had to save up six, seven months” to afford the $1,600 fee for the four-week course.

Anthony P. Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce and the chief author of its study on certificates, questioned whether it was the best use of federal money to give Pell grants to students at four-year colleges who pursue majors in fields like philosophy, with little economic payoff in employment and earnings. Why not, he asked, provide aid to students who take noncredit certificate courses that often translate quickly into jobs and higher pay?

“If you want to take four years of Shakespeare, that’s up to you,” he said. “Is that what the public sector should support? The bottom line is, given the budget situation, we ought to be more concerned about preparing people for the job market.”

Despite high unemployment, employers complain they can’t find skilled workers. Few are looking for philosophers.

Massachusetts links colleges, employers

Massachusetts’ 15 community colleges are working with industry on workforce development with the help of a $20 million federal grant, reports Worcester Business Journal.

The Massachusetts Community Colleges and Workforce Development Transformation Agenda (MCCWDTA) is redesigning degree and certificate programs in six high-demand industries: health care, biotechnology and life sciences, advanced manufacturing, clean energy and sustainability, information technology and financial services.

Students will brush up on academic skills while training for jobs, said Assistant Secretary of Labor Jane Oates in a speech at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester. “They cannot sit in a classroom for two semesters because they need to brush up on fractions and decimals,” Oates said.

College and career navigators will help students enroll in courses and use the One‐Stop Career Center on each campus under the new initiative. Industry representatives, college administrators and faculty will design job training programs together.

Pathway to technology degrees, jobs

Students are competing for a shot at a six-year high school in Brooklyn that offers vocational training and college classes, reports the New York Times.

By 2017, the first wave of students of P-Tech — Pathways in Technology Early College High School — is expected to emerge with associate’s degrees in applied science in computer information systems or electromechanical engineering technology, following a course of studies developed in consultation with I.B.M.

“I mean, in 10th grade, doing college work?” said Monesia McKnight, 15, as she sat in an introduction to computer systems course taught by a college professor. “How great is that?”

New York City plans to open several more schools on the P-Tech model, and other states are following suit.

“When we view high-quality C.T.E. programs, we see how engaged those students are and what clear aspirations they have for their future,” said John B. King Jr., the state education commissioner. “Unfortunately, that’s not always present in some of our struggling schools.”

In its second year, P-Tech houses ninth and 1oth graders at Paul Robeson High School, which is being phased out because of poor performance. Some 88 percent of P-Tech students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Half tested below proficiency in eighth grade, but they’re already passing state Regents exams and taking college courses.

Students attend from 8:35 a.m. to 4:06 p.m., in 10-period days that intersperse traditional classes like math and English with technology and business-centric courses like “workplace learning,” which teaches networking, critical thinking and presentation skills. Second-year students are offered physics and global studies as well as the business courses and college-level courses in speech or logic and problem solving — or both. There is also a six-week summer academy for geometry.

Students who straight to the workforce will be prepared for “entry-level technology jobs paying around $40,000 a year, like software specialists who answer questions from I.B.M.’s business customers or “deskside support” workers who answer calls from PC users,” reports the Times. Students aren’t guaranteed a job at IBM, but they should have skills required by many companies as well as the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in two years.

Each student also is paired with an IBM mentor and visits the company’s offices and labs. The principal also has an IBM mentor. The company helped train the school’s teachers and funds a full-time liaison to work with college faculty, who also helped develop the curriculum.

How employers see IT associate degrees

When employers in Seattle and Detroit look for information technology technicians, they expect applicants with associate degrees to share some characteristics with bachelor’s degree holders, including technical skills and knowledge, thinking skills, communication skills, and discipline, concludes a working paper from the Community College Research Center by Michelle Van Noy and James Jacobs. However, many hiring managers also feared associate degree holders would lack academic ability, initiative or skill compared to techs with four-year degrees.

Employers did not expect associate or bachelor’s degrees to provide information about certain key qualities, including competency in customer service and teamwork, and personal interest in technology.

$8 billion for ‘community career centers’

An $8 billion Community College to Career Fund will reward colleges that partner with local employers to train 2 million workers for high-demand, well-paying jobs in advanced manufacturing, information technology, health care and “green” tech. That’s if President Obama persuades Congress to pass his budget.  In a speech at Northern Virginia Community College yesterday, the president linked “America’s comeback” to investing in education.  ”We can’t just cut our way into growth,” he said.

A key component of the community college plan would institute “pay for performance” in job training, meaning there would be financial incentives to ensure that trainees find permanent jobs – particularly for programs that place individuals facing the greatest hurdles getting work. It also would promote training of entrepreneurs, provide grants for state and local government to recruit companies, and support paid internships for low-income community college students.

Despite the recession, some high-tech industries report shortages of skilled workers. As the economy recovers and baby boomers retire, there will be 2 million job openings in manufacturing through 2018, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown. But there’s a catch, reports AP.

. . . these types of jobs frequently require the ability to operate complicated machinery and follow detailed instructions, as well as some expertise in subjects like math and statistics.

. . . Mark Schneider, the former U.S. commissioner of education statistics who now serves as vice president at the American Institutes for Research, said there’s no doubt that high-tech companies need skilled workers. But he said there are challenges with leaning heavily on community colleges. Many students enter community colleges lacking math skills. The sophisticated equipment needed for training is expensive, and there’s little known about the effectiveness of individual community colleges programs across the country, he said.

In particular, “green” job training programs have produced disappointing results.

Community colleges have been partnering with industry on job training for many years. “Community colleges understand the needs of local employers,” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in a White House press conference yesterday. The fund would allow colleges to hire staff, buy equipment and develop curriculum, she said.  (I wanted to ask why taxpayers should fund training for employers, but I was too far back in the phone queue.)

“We will give community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, echoing President Obama’s line from the State of the Union speech.  We will create “an America built to last,” said Duncan. Also “an economy built to last.” And a workforce “built to last.”

President Obama’s past budgets have been “rife with unfilled promises” to community colleges, notes Inside Higher Ed.