Is sustainability still in bloom?

The sustainability fervor has cooled on campus, reports Community College Daily.

Community colleges developed job training programs in “green” energy.  However, some have been retooled when graduates couldn’t find jobs.

Colleges also retrofitted old buildings with energy-saving technology and built “green” buildings.

“I don’t think [green] has become less popular, but some other priorities have risen to the top,” says Todd Cohen, who directs the SEED Center, an effort by the American Association of Community Colleges to promote sustainability at the nation’s two-year career and technical colleges.

In a McGraw Hill survey in 2013, few colleges could evaluate the return on investment for “green” buildings.

Jill Biden touts job training

Community colleges are leaders in training students for careers in “green technology, health care, teaching and information technology,” said Jill Biden in a New Orleans speech. The vice president’s wife, an associate professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College, spoke at the Institute for Career Development’s 2014 National Conference.

Biden also advocated public-private partnerships to match job training with employers’ needs.

This week, the administration announced $450 million in grants to community colleges that are partnering with employers on job training.
While Biden was enthusiastic about the value of a community college education for students, she didn’t talk about how little their adjunct instructors are paid, writes Jed Lipinski in the Times-Picayune.

At Delgado Community College in New Orleans, adjuncts will wait seven weeks for their first meager paycheck, allegedly because Obamacare forced delays, the Times-Picayune reports.

Sam Ray, an adjunct instructor of Spanish, borrowed rent money from a friend. His department chair bought him groceries. Even when the check comes, it won’t be much. He earns $2,150 per course. A four-course load for the full school year comes to $17,200. It takes less than 30 hours a week to teach four courses, according to the college, so full-time adjuncts aren’t eligible for benefits.

Adjuncts become “freeway flyers.” John Mark Maust teaches three Spanish courses at Delgado’s West Bank campus, a fourth at the City Park campus, a fifth class at Nunez Community College and and a sixth at a private school. He’s “subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches” till his Delgado paycheck arrives.

As an adjunct at Northern Virginia, Jill Biden earned $42,500 to teach two remedial English courses per semester, reported Inside Higher Ed. A Delgado adjunct would earn $8,600 for the same courseload, writes Lipinski.

In 2012, as a full-time associate professor teaching a three-course load, Biden earned $82,000.

At Delgado, full-time professors teach five courses per semester.

Urban League collaborates on job training

Community colleges are working with the National Urban League on job training for lower-income adults, reports Community College Daily.

For example, Wichita Area Technical College (WATC) partners with the Urban League of Kansas on training for jobs as nursing assistants and home health aides. Ninety-five percent of graduates pass the state certification exam.

YouthBuild students learn construction skills at Monroe Community College.

YouthBuild students learn construction skills at Monroe Community College.

The Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD) has been working with the Urban League of Detroit and Southeastern Michigan since 2009 to train and employ laid-off workers. Students work about 20 hours a week at the college in clerical or computer jobs for a stipend paid by the Detroit Urban League. WCCD also helps them with resume writing, interviewing, networking and developing an employment plan.

The Urban League of Greater New Orleans  started working this fall with Delgado Community College and Nunez Community College  to provide dual-enrollment vocational classes for high school students.  Career pathways include industrial technology and maintenance, welding, oil and gas technology, and the construction trades.

Construction skills are the focus of a program for young high school dropouts in Rochester, New York. The Urban League of Rochester provides GED instruction and training in life skills and job readiness. Monroe Community College (MCC) instructors teach hands-on classes and YouthBuild teaches construction skills.

Students accepted into the program undergo two weeks of “mental toughness training” to gauge if they’re ready for a rigorous nine-month program, said Shelia James, ULR vice president for program planning. Once they complete what she calls a mini-boot camp, with an exercise routine led by a drill sergeant and motivational guest speakers, a panel interviews the participants and decides if they’re ready for YouthBuild.

There are 13 students learning entry-level carpentry in the current cohort, said Kathleen Alongi of MCC’s Economic and Workforce Development Center. The course also covers some electrical and plumbing basics, safety issues, power tools, construction materials and “construction math,” which deals with such topics as calculating cubic feet and reading blueprints, and employability skills, like the importance of showing up on time and how to behave at a worksite.

Students can earn a nationally recognized pre-apprenticeship certificate from the Home Builders Institute plus credentials in work readiness, safety and CPR. They gain experience by building houses for Habitat for Humanity and local construction companies.

U.S. lags in vocational credentials

Americans earn fewer vocational degrees than our competitors overseas, notes Kyla Calvert on PBS NewsHour. That’s the key to why the U.S. isn’t first in the world in college degrees.

U.S. Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell

U.S. Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell

“Yes, we lag our peers in helping adult students develop skills that are valued today and tomorrow in the market place,” responds U.S. Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell.  Technical colleges that help students earn vocational credentials have very high graduation and job placement rates, says Mitchell.

“These are not yesterday’s ‘voc ed’ programs, these are really high-tech training programs that also involve the 21st Century deeper learning skills of collaboration, problem-solving, creative thinking – the things that are needed all the way up and down the employment pipeline,” he says.

How do you balance innovation, such as competency-based credentials, with the need to ensure students are earning credentials that are valued in the labor market? asks Calvert.

That’s a problem with traditional education, too, answers Mitchell.

. . . competency-based education has an opportunity to shorten that cycle, because of the specificity of the competencies that students are learning, their attachment to very specific tasks or jobs in the marketplace and then feedback about whether students are learning those or not. It’s harder to do with a history major . . .

Is there a danger that these narrowly-focused credentials won’t hold their value as the marketplace changes?

There are two worries there. One is the old vocational worry, where you’re training people for yesterday’s job. And I think that with active participation of employers in the design of these programs, we’re getting employers who are looking five or 10 years out, not just looking to fill five sales positions tomorrow. . . . The second issue is that I think that we need to be careful that in modularizing or compartmentalizing some of these very specific competencies that we’re not losing the overall arc of higher education, which is a value that is transformative in lots of ways, not just the accumulation of skills.

The administration’s college ratings will “provide sensible, credible, clear information to families,” said Mitchell. The goal is to help families and the public understand how the college investment pays off.

Tech training is gateway to middle class

College should not be the only gateway to the middle class, writes Robert Reich, who was Bill Clinton’s secretary of Labor, in Salon.  Obsessed with bachelor’s degrees, “we’ve allowed vocational and technical education to be downgraded and denigrated,” he writes. But our economy needs skilled technicians.

As digital equipment replaces the jobs of routine workers and lower-level professionals, technicians are needed to install, monitor, repair, test, and upgrade all the equipment.

Hospital technicians are needed to monitor ever more complex equipment that now fills medical centers; office technicians, to fix the hardware and software responsible for much of the work that used to be done by secretaries and clerks.

Automobile technicians are in demand to repair the software that now powers our cars; manufacturing technicians, to upgrade the numerically controlled machines and 3-D printers that have replaced assembly lines; laboratory technicians, to install and test complex equipment for measuring results; telecommunications technicians, to install, upgrade, and repair the digital systems linking us to one another.

Community colleges train technicians at “bargain” prices, but they’re “systematically starved of funds,” writes Reich.  State legislators “direct most higher-education funding to four-year colleges and universities because that’s what their middle-class constituents want for their kids.”

Business “executives are usually the products of four-year liberal arts institutions and don’t know the value of community colleges,” he adds.

By contrast, Germany provides its students the alternative of a world-class technical education that’s kept the German economy at the forefront of precision manufacturing and applied technology.

The skills taught are based on industry standards, and courses are designed by businesses that need the graduates. So when young Germans get their degrees, jobs are waiting for them.

Young Germans choose a technical or academic track by age 14, writes Reich. Americans wouldn’t go for that.

But we could “combine the last year of high school with the first year of community college” to train technicians, writes Reich.  Employers “would help design the courses and promise jobs” to graduates. Late bloomers could pursue associate or bachelor’s degrees, if they choose.

North Carolina is adding five-year “early college” high schools, such as Wake Early College of Health and Sciences.  Students can graduate with a two-year degree or health science certificate.

IBM helped design New York City’s P-TECH, which adds two years of college-level job training to four years of high school.  IBM will hire graduates who want to go directly to the workforce.


P-TECH in Brooklyn fields a robotics team.

Mastery + modules = job training revolution

Online competency-based education is the most “disruptive” innovation in higher education, write Michelle R. Weise and Clayton M. Christensen in Hire Education.

Online competency-based providers create cost-effective, adaptable pathways to the workforce by breaking learning into competencies rather than courses, they write.

The fusion of modularization with mastery-based learning is the key to understanding how these providers can build a multitude of stackable credentials or programs for a wide variety of industries, scale them, and simultaneously drive down the cost of educating students for the opportunities at hand. These programs target a growing set of students who are looking for a different value proposition from higher education—one that centers on targeted and specific learning outcomes, tailored support, as well as identifiable skillsets that are portable and meaningful to employers. Moreover, they underscore the valuable role that employers can play in postsecondary education by creating a whole new value network that connects students directly with employers.

Strong partnerships between online competency-based providers and employers will become more important than college rankings and accreditation, Weise and Christensen predict.

Learning and rebuilding in Ferguson


The shooting death of Michael Brown sparked peaceful and violent protests in Ferguson, Mo.  Credit: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.P. Forbes/AP

The fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer — and the unrest that followed — are now the subject of lessons at colleges near the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, reports Katherine Mangan in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Cindy Epperson, professor of sociology at St. Louis Community College at Meramec, teaches Crime and Society and Introduction to Sociology.  She plans to diagram “Michael Brown and the groups that surround him—the grieving family and the grieving community—and how his death connected him to a community of strangers. We’ll talk about how the life and death of this young man will lead to social change.”

We’ll also talk about debunking stereotypes and myths. Most of the looters shown in the media were black, so people who believe this is what black people do are going to say, “See, I told you so.” But what we do in sociology is look at how many people were there and how many were not looting. How many were opportunists whose actions had nothing to do with the death of Michael Brown?

My colleagues and I have spent time with the protesters in Ferguson, trying to get our heads around what’s happening. We want students to start thinking critically about how the events relate to each other and about possible solutions. Why are there only three African-American officers out of 53 when 63 percent of Ferguson is African-American? What kinds of attitudes might be preventing people from becoming police officers, and how can the college be part of the solution?

Centene, a managed-care company, plans to build a claims center in Ferguson that will create 150 to 200 full-time jobs, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  The company hopes to open a temporary facility in Ferguson by the end of the year.

“It is time for action, not talk,” Centene chairman and CEO Michael Neidorff said in a written statement.

St. Louis Community College will provide targeted job training for the new employees.

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.

Community colleges should be free


Following Tennessee’s lead, several states are considering free tuition for community and technical college students.

Community Colleges Should Be Free, editorializes Scientific American. Community colleges train technicians for jobs in leading-edge industries and serve as gateways to higher education for first-generation, minority and working-class students.

The Tennessee Promise is showing the way. Starting next year, high school graduate will pay no tuition at two-year community colleges and technical schools.

However, many community college entrants have weak basic skills. Only 32 percent of Tennessee students complete a credential. Gov. Bill Haslam’s program includes “mentors” to help students succeed.

 To ensure that the newly enrolled reach graduation day, administrators of community colleges must emphasize accelerated remedial programs to get students through the basics and into career-related classes quickly enough to avoid the frustration and despondency that lead to elevated dropout rates.

The two-year colleges should also give serious consideration to new teaching methods that could maximize the time teachers have to interact with their students. Bill Gates, whose foundation has contributed tens of millions to remedy the failings of two-year schools, recommended in a speech last year that community colleges experiment with “flipped classrooms.” Students watch lectures from MOOCs (massive open online courses) at home. In class, instead of getting lectures, they complete homework-like exercises, with personalized instruction from professors and teaching assistants.

Oregon plans a Promise bill.  Mississippi legislators rejected the idea, but may come back to it next year. Now a Texas politician has proposed making community and technical college free to high school graduates in her state.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, wants the state to invest $2 billion in a Texas Promise Fund modeled after the Tennessee plan. “It is time to get Texans prepared for the jobs of the future,” said Van de Putte. Students would have to exhaust their federal grant aid and pay for their non-academic fees, books and living expenses.

In Michigan, the Kalamazoo Promise — funded by local philanthropists – guarantees college or university tuition to graduates of district-run public schools. Grades and AP enrollments are up and suspensions are way down, reports Politico. But, nine years after the Promise was announced, college dropout rates remain high for Kalamazoo students.

Brian Lindhal, a 2012 graduate of Loy Norrix High School, had a rocky start at Kalamazoo Valley Community College last fall. After earning a B in English and a D in history his first semester, he didn’t sign up for the winter term. “It didn’t click,” says Lindhal, 20, who works full-time at a company that restores garments after fires and floods. He plans to go back next semester. “I know a lot of people in other places would kill to have what I have,” he says sheepishly.

Rochester, New York also has a Promise program, writes Michael Holzman on Dropout Nation. Very few blacks — and even fewer black males — read proficiently in ninth grade and go on to earn a diploma at Rochester’s high schools. Only nine percent of blacks earned a degree in six years at Monroe Community College. The completion rate was five percent for black males.

Trained, jobless and in debt

Joe DeGrella of Louisville trained as a cardiology technician but works at AutoZone. Credit: Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

Millions of laid-off Americans have used federal aid to train for new jobs, reports the New York Times. Yet many end up jobless and in debt.

It’s not clear the $3.1 billion Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which was reauthorized last month, improves trainees’ odds of finding a job or their improving their earnings.  The feds don’t keep track.

When Joe DeGrella’s construction company failed, he met with a federally funded counselor, who “provided him with a list of job titles the Labor Department determined to be in high demand,” reports the Times. He chose a college certified to offer job training and received a federal retraining grant.

Two years studying to be a cardiology technician at Daymar College, a for-profit in Louisville, left him with $20,000 in debt and no job. Now 57, he moved into his sister’s basement and works at an AutoZone.

About 21 million jobless people entered retraining at community colleges, vocational and business schools, and four-year universities in 2012.

“The jobs they are being trained for really aren’t better paying,” said Carolyn Heinrich, director of the Center for Health and Social Policy at the University of Texas.

Laid-off workers spend less to take classes at community colleges. However, completion rates low. Defaults are a growing problem.

At Florida Keys Community College, the default rate is 19.4 percent, reports the Times.

The college charges nearly $11,000 for a two-year degree to get a job as a nursing assistant. Median — not starting pay — for a nursing assistant in Florida is less than $26,000 a year.

The updated WIA requires states to “track former students to determine if training helped them find work with sustainable wages,” reports the Times.

. . . In some states, data and academic studies have suggested that a vast majority of the unemployed may have found work without the help of the Workforce Investment Act.

In South Carolina, for example, 75 percent of dislocated workers found jobs without training, compared with 77 percent who found jobs after entering the program, according to state figures.

The Times confuses the student loan program with workforce development,writes Mary Alice McCarthy on EdCentral. Job trainees get grants though many also borrow to pay for college programs.

WIA spends $3 billion a year, the Higher Education Act provide over $150 billion a year in federal grants, loans, and tax credits. “A large share of that money goes to support students earning associate’s degree and occupational certificates,” writes McCarthy.

The government is “a terrible prophet for labor needs down the road,” writes Ed Morrissey on Hot Air.  The WIA should subsidize “employer-based training for jobs that need filling now or in the near future,” ensuring that people are trained for “real jobs.” Even then, taxpayers will end up paying for training that would have occurred anyhow.

Morrissey recalls the classic Tennessee Ernie Ford song:

You pass 16 classes and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don’t you call me, it wouldn’t be cool.
I owe my soul to the vocational school.