Career-minded students seek competency degrees

Career-minded adults are turning to “competency-based” degrees, reports U.S. News.  Online programs that award credits for mastery of skills and knowledge can provide a faster, cheaper route to a degree.

President Barack Obama is a fan of the idea. “If you’re learning the material faster, you can finish faster,” he said in a speech last year.

The Education Department is experimenting with financial aid eligibility for students in accredited competency programs.

Craig Kilgo, 29, is a project manager for the Department of Defense. A Cornell dropout, he’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in information science and technology in the “competency-based” Flexible Option offered by the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee.

 A traditional college program requires the student to “sit in the classroom and go through the material in lock step with everybody else,” says Aaron Brower, interim chancellor at the University of Wisconsin Extension, who is overseeing the Flexible Option. A regular online program allows you to go at your own pace, “but you still have to do A, B and C in sequence,” he says.

In a competency-based program such as UW’s, “you can skip A and B and go right to C, providing you can pass the assessments that show you have mastered the content of A and B,” says Brower.

And the assessments are not a matter of passing or failing. Instead, “You pass, or you haven’t yet passed,” he says. Students are assigned an academic success coach who, if they don’t succeed the first time, can provide extra guidance and supplemental materials.

Kilgo finished a web design course in three weeks, leveraging his on-the-job experience, instead of the typical 16 weeks.

UW students can take one course for $900 or choose the “all you can learn” option: as many courses as they can handle in three months for $2,250. Kilgo, who started with 63 credits, has finished 10 courses in two three-month periods. In another six months, he should have his degree for a total cost of $9,000.

Craig Kilgo and family

Craig Kilgo and family

UW also offers Flexible Option degrees in diagnostic imaging and nursing, a certificate in professional and technical communication, and an associate degree in arts and sciences.

Western Governors University offers online competency-based degrees in business, teaching, information technology and health. Northern Arizona University offers small business administration, computer information technology and liberal arts.

Southern New Hampshire University’s competency-based College for America is spinning off its custom-made learning management system, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Federal grants are funding competency-based programs at community colleges. Indiana’s Ivy Tech will offer information technology degrees. Six Kentucky community colleges — Hazard Community and Technical College (HCTC), Big Sandy CTC, Jefferson CTC, Somerset Community College, Southeast Kentucky CTC, and West Kentucky CTC — have formed a consortium to develop competency-based degrees and certificates in information technology.

Employers, colleges try German-style job training

Germany’s job training model — a mix of vocational classwork and on-the-job apprenticeships — is catching on in the U.S., reports Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.

Students at Indiana’s Ivy Tech community colleges will be able to spend three days a week in class and two working — for pay — at companies such as Industrial Electric.

Ivy Tech plans to add programs in advanced automation and robotics, collaborating with employers who run assembly plants.

Students at Ivy Tech Community College. (Photo: Ivy Tech Community College)

Ivy Tech students practice welding skills. Photo: Ivy Tech Community College
In addition to Indiana, German-style job training programs are in the works in more than a dozen states.

The Obama administration is promoting academic credit for apprenticeships.

However, funding apprenticeships is expensive. “In Germany, employers pay 75 percent of the $19,850 annual cost of each trainee, and the government covers the rest,” writes Marcus. Ivy Tech is trying to get employers to cover the cost for trainees they hire.

Only about 10 percent of American 18- to 22-year-olds get on-the-job training, the OECD reports.

High youth unemployment and a shortage of skilled workers is a problem in Europe too, except for Germany, reports The Economist.

Closing the skills — and earnings — gap

Jassiel Aguila uses an arch welder to merge two pipes together as he continues his education as a pipefitter at the Air Conditioning, Refrigeration and Pipefitting Education Center on Jan. 5, 2012, in Opa Locka, Fla.

By 2020 there will be a shortage of 875,000 machinists, welders, industrial-machinery mechanics and industrial engineers, according to a Boston Consulting Group report

Manufacturers are working with high schools and community colleges in hopes of closing the industrial skills gap, writes Katherine Peralta on U.S. News.

Unlike other teenagers’ summer jobs, Brett Fledderman’s begins at 6 o’clock in the morning, has him programming metal stamping equipment and pays $9 an hour, well above his home state Indiana’s $7.25 minimum. The 17-year-old is part of a new job training program in Batesville in which local businesses, the community college and the high school collaborate to ready a new field of talent for jobs in manufacturing.

“I learn a lot faster with hands-on work, so stuff like this really makes me learn a lot faster than I would in the classroom,” says Fledderman, who’s working this summer at Batesville Tool & Die, a 400-employee company that makes and supplies metal stamping components for the car, appliance and industrial sectors.

Nationwide, most machinists, welders and industrial maintenance workers are “50-something,” says Gardner Carrick, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Manufacturing Institute , a research arm of the National Association of Manufacturers. Companies need to build a pipeline of skilled workers to prepare for the coming “retirement crunch,” he says.

Most manufacturing areas have enough skilled workers now, but five cities – Miami, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Wichita, Kansas – have “significant or severe” skills gaps already.

In Indiana, machinists, tool and die makers, welders, cutters, solderers and brazers pay a median wage of at least $17, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At Batesville High, 70 to 80 percent of students plan to go to a four-year college or university, says Jim Roberts, the school corporation’s superintendent. School administrators have had to “redirect to a more practical approach” in educating students about realistic job market prospects, he says.

Jody Fledderman, Batesville Tool & Die’s president and CEO and Brett’s uncle, says the program in his community is possible because of the cooperation between the high school, the community college – Ivy Tech – and area manufacturers, including Batesville Casket Co., Heartwood Manufacturing Inc. and Virtus Inc. Students in the co-op program, who enter as juniors, split their weeks between classes at the high school and Ivy Tech and on-the-job at one of the four businesses.

Fledderman hopes students will graduate one semester short of an associate degree. The company hires some four-year graduates, but primarily is looking for workers with a technical associate degree and industrial skills.

Ivy Tech partners with ‘Hamburger U’

McDonald’s “Hamburger University” trainees — often assistant and shift managers — will be able to use their credits to earn a certificate or associate degree through Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College, reports the Indianapolis Star.  McDonald’s employees across the country will have a chance to turn their management training credits into a credential through Ivy Tech’s online program.

The program is called a “degree crosswalk”, reports Community College Daily.

Structure leads to speedy degree

Slow and steady doesn’t win the race to a community college credential, writes Jon Marcus in Time. The longer students take the less likely they are to reach their goals.

Daranie Ounchaidee sees high school friends at Ivy Tech in Indianapolis.

Many work part time, prolonging their time in school. Others have changed majors or dropped courses. Most, whose parents never went to college, struggle with the red tape of registering, paying, and applying for financial aid.

For her friends, “it’s like there’s no ending,” says Ounchaidee.

But the Thai-Laotian student earned a two-year degree in only 11 months thanks to a program that targets first-generation students from low-income families.

Only 4 percent of community college students complete an associate’s degree within two years, and 36 percent of students at public universities earn a bachelor’s degree in four, according to Complete College America. After six years, 60 percent of community college students and more than 40 percent of university students haven’t earned a degree, reports the National Student Clearinghouse.

Ounchaidee and her classmates in the Associate Accelerated Program, or ASAP, at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis, had grade-point averages of at least 2.5 in high school, and had to pledge to stay in college full time and not work, and to continue living with their parents or guardians. Those are among the stipulations of the program, where the time to their degrees was compressed to less than one year.

They also had no choices of what courses to take. Each began within days of finishing high school, and, together as a group, went through 60 hours a week of rigidly proscribed classes and outside assignments.

“We have their curriculum laid out from Day One,” said Jon Arbuckle, one of the instructors. “Without these guidelines, students bounce around. They’ll take a handful of classes, then some life event occurs, they take a semester off, and they’re lost.”

ASAP students have easy access to counseling.

Eighty-six percent of ASAP students earn their degrees on time or remain enrolled, the college reports. That’s five times higher than the graduation rate for non-ASAP students.

Students save money by completing an associate degree in one year. Most of the $7,119 cost is covered by federal Pell grants and state financial aid.

Ounchaidee will study biomedical engineering at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

A push for ‘reverse transfer’

Reverse transfer — using credits earned at a four-year institution to award an associate degree — is increasingly popular. Many community college students transfer before earning an associate degree, but fail to complete a bachelor’s.

U.S. Sen. Kay Haganm D- North Carolina, and  Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, have sponsored a bill giving federal incentives for reverse transfer programs, reports the Charlotte Observer. If approved, it would become part of the Higher Education Act.

Indiana’s performance funding is complicating reverse transfer, reports the Indianapolis Star. Ivy Tech wants to award associate degrees to former students who earn enough credits. Indiana University fears the community college will get to claim full credit for the graduate even though the university has done most of the educating.

Indiana: 28% earn credential in 6 years

IndianaCompletion rates are low at Indiana’s public two-year colleges, reports the state Commission for Higher Education. The six-year completion rate for students seeking certificates or degrees is 28.2 percent. That includes transfers and students who earned a lower-level credential than originally sought.

Two-year public colleges spend an average of $31,369 for each degree produced, half the per-degree cost of four-year colleges and universities.

At Ivy Tech, the state community college system, the cost per degree is $30,120. Ivy Tech’s six-year completion rate — any credential at any campus — is 27.7 percent for full-time students and 20.8 percent for part-timers.

Only 15.7 percent of blacks who start at Ivy Tech have earned a credential within six years, compared to 26.8 percent of Hispanics, 29.6 percent of whites and 35.7 percent of Asians.

At Indiana’s four-year colleges and universities, the six-year completion rate is 68.6 percent. That includes any degree at any campus.

Tu Futuro helps Latinos set goals

Tu Futuro, which means “your future,” is encouraging Latino students in Indianapolis to aim high, reports the Indianapolis Star.

Paola Padilla didn’t think (college) … was possible for someone like her.

For one, she is an undocumented immigrant. Also, no one in her family has a college degree.

But after graduating from Southport High School earlier this year, the 19-year-old is taking community college classes and hopes to later transfer to a university. She wants to pursue a career in accounting or in the medical field.

Tu Futuro, developed by La Plaza Inc., visits more than 20 high schools to discuss career goals, scholarship opportunities and how to pursue a college education. Tabitha Truax, a program coordinator, helped Padilla apply for scholarships and tour the University of Indianapolis. Truax helped her “get motivated,” she says.

Padilla qualified for a work permit through Deferred Action, a new federal program.

Born in Mexico, Padilla moved with her family to Indiana when she was 7. Her mother and two older siblings didn’t finish high school. Her father studied briefly to become an electrician.

Now, she juggles full-time school work with a 20- to 30-hour-a-week job at McDonald’s while also going through a nursing assistant program at RESQ, a medical training organization in Indianapolis.

. . . With the help of Tu Futuro, Padilla received a couple of scholarships that helped pay for her first semester at Ivy Tech Community College. But because she is not an Indiana resident, she pays out-of-state fees. Padilla said that amounts to $4,000 a semester.

Already struggling to pay for Ivy Tech, Padilla hopes to transfer to Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, which costs $12,000 semester. “I want to be someone in life.”

$27 an hour to start

“Stackable” short-term vocational certificates can help young people find good jobs, then go back to college for even better jobs, reports Community College Daily.

Westmoreland County Community College (WCCC) in Pennsylvania is working closely with industry partners. “Instead of coming out of college with $50,000 in debt, the goal should be to come out with a $50,000 income,” says Doug Jensen, WCCC associate vice president for workforce education and economic development.

With ArcelorMittal, local high schools and Career and Technical Centers (CTCs) of Pennsylvania, WCCC participates in Steelworker for the Future. The program includes college courses and a paid professional internship.

“When students walk across the stage on graduation day, they get their high school diploma, they get their CTC credentials and they get a certificate from WCCC in applied industrial technology,” says Jensen. High school graduates with Steelworker for the Future credentials can start at up to $27 an hour and make close to $80,000 a year with overtime and bonuses.

Other community colleges participating in Steelworker for the Future include Ivy Tech in Indiana, Moraine Valley Community College and Prairie State College in Illinois, West Virginia Northern Community College and Cuyahoga Community College and Lakeland Community College in Ohio.

Colleges join ‘honors’ transfer network

Quad Learning‘s American Honors is creating a national transfer network to help high-achieving community college students earn bachelor’s degrees at selective colleges and universities, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Twenty-seven colleges and universities, including Amherst, Swarthmore Colleges, Purdue and UCLA, have agreed to recruit and enroll honors college transfers. Last week, New Jersey’s Mercer County Community College and Union County College joined Community Colleges of Spokane and Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College in starting American Honors programs.

The American Honors vision is to wrap a rigorous academic honors program developed and delivered by the host community colleges themselves within a bundle of American Honors-provided advising and other services that exceed what financially strapped two-year institutions usually manage themselves. (For instance, the programs have one academic adviser for every 100 or so students, compared to a ratio of about 1,000-to-1 normally.)

Quad Learning, a for-profit company, doesn’t develop the curriculum and has no plans to seek accreditation for American Honors, said president Chris Romer.

The curriculum is delivered in a blended format, with both on-ground and synchronously delivered online courses; academic and other advising is delivered both online and in person, and mandatory “transfer coaching” is done face-to-face.

Spokane’s first graduates have been accepted at institutions such as the University of Washington, Cornell, Stanford and Vanderbilt.  The program, which has tripled its enrollment, is drawing students who wouldn’t have considered community college without an honors option, said Lisa Avery, vice provost for strategic partnerships at Spokane.

Ivy Tech also is expanding American Honors to more campuses.

“From what we’ve seen, these American Honors students are going to be really good students who are well prepared and can persist and graduate,” said Kasey Urquidez, associate vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at the University of Arizona, which is joining the program.

State universities often have agreements with community colleges in their own states to automatically admit transfer students who meet certain academic standards, and to accept certain credits. But those deals generally do not cross state lines or apply to private colleges, which organizers say makes the new alliance the first of its kind.

A handful of universities in the group will offer automatic admission to some American Honors graduates, though the criteria for that, like grade point average, will vary by institution. None have pledged to accept all of the students’ community college credits, but administrators say they have committed to accepting as many as possible.

Some community colleges already have honors programs. Miami Dade College‘s program was a model for American Honors.

American Honors students pay more than the normal community college tuition but considerably less than they’d pay at a four-year institution.