With the help of Labor Department grants, community colleges are accelerating job training programs aimed at adults and “stacking” workforce credentials, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Working with employers, Massachusetts’ 15 community colleges have accelerated training for jobs in health care, advanced manufacturing, information technology, biotechnology, green energy and financial services.
In addition to prior-learning assessment and competency-based education, colleges are creating stackable credentials. Students can earn a short-term certificate, find a job and return later to add a higher credential.
For advanced manufacturing, the final product was a pyramid of competencies employees should ideally master to work at various job levels. The colleges worked with manufacturers statewide to develop those standards.
For example, in the precision machining field, entry-level jobs like assemblers or warehouse workers should have skills in five major areas: shop math, blueprint reading, metrology, problem solving and workplace readiness. But further up the pyramid, supervisors and managers should hold certificates and degrees in manufacturing technology, as well as more learned skills, such as programming, and a minimum number of hours working in the industry.
Stacking also works well for health-care credentials, said Ana Sanchez, the “career and college navigator” at Springfield Technical Community College. “Everybody wants to be a nurse,” but not everyone has the math and science skills needed. In one or two semesters, students can earn a certificate as a patient care technician or medical admin. It can be a quick route to the workforce and, for some, the first step on the path to a nursing degree.
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.
In tough times, frugal students are starting at community colleges in Southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley, reports the Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, MA.
Kaila Nicholson of Kingston wants to join a SWAT team. Dayanna Martes of Lawrence is studying business. Aja Metcalf of Salem is majoring in exercise science.
The Northern Essex Community College students are looking forward to the day when they can start their new careers — without being burdened with thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
Students expect to save at least $20,000 in tuition, room and board by starting their path to a bachelor’s degree at a local community college.
Martes was offered an $18,000 scholarship to Newbury College, but calculated living at home and attending NECC was more affordable.
Nicholson, who is studying criminal justice, said she’s now paying $5,000 a year, compared to $30,000 a year at Southern New Hampshire University, where she attended for one semester. NECC is smaller and provides more individual attention, she said. “I think it’s a good school and the teachers here are really good,” Nicholson said. “And it’s cheaper.”
Ever since the recession began several years ago, community college officials in New Hampshire and Massachusetts say they are seeing significant increases in enrollment as students and their families struggle to foot the rising costs of higher education.
News coverage of rising college costs has scared students and parents, said NECC spokesman Ernie Greenslade.
New Hampshire graduates owed an average of $32,450, the largest debt load in the nation, according to The Institute for College Access & Success. Massachusetts ranked 14th at $27,181.
Massachusetts “lawmakers are tightening state control over community colleges, tying budgets to academic performance and giving education officials greater say over choosing and evaluating college presidents,” reports the Boston Globe.
Nearly half of public college students in Massachusetts attend the state’s 15 community colleges, but graduation rates are low.
The plan comes with added financial support. The state will increase spending on the two-year schools by $11 million, including $5 million for a grant program focused on raising graduation rates and consolidating administrative tasks across campuses. Another $2.3 million will help schools develop job-training programs to meet changing workforce needs.
Gov. Deval Patrick pushed for the measure, but didn’t get state control over college fees which will continue to be set locally.
Radio Boston asks whether the legislation will improve accountability or add another layer of bureaucracy.
Should public colleges focus on academics or vocational skills? The battle lines are drawn in Massachusetts, where Gov. Deval Patrick wants community colleges to be drivers of workforce and economic development, writes Melissa Goldberg on the Workforce Strategy Center blog. But Is it the right debate? she asks.
In the Boston Globe Magazine, Jon Marcus asks whether higher education’s purpose should be knowledge or vocation.”
(Bob) Britt had watched as friends and relatives went to college only because it was expected. “They were 18, and so they went,” he says. “And when they got out, there wasn’t anything for them.” So when Britt enrolled at North Shore Community College, it was for a new kind of program that is being closely watched by industry executives and policy makers alike. It’s a program connected to the real world of work that all but guarantees its students something universities and colleges are being pressed to provide in exchange for their spiraling costs, and at a time when employers complain they can’t find workers for high-tech jobs in a fast-changing economy: useful skills.
Britt’s two-year associate’s degree program in manufacturing technology is a collaboration between the college – which furnishes faculty for classroom work – and General Electric. GE needs highly trained machinists to replace the large number of employees nearing retirement at its River Works aircraft engine plant in Lynn, which has been chugging along while recovering from the 1980s recession. GE pays the students while they learn and covers the costs of their academic courses in advanced manufacturing. That’s a high-growth field, one in which Britt is virtually assured a job after graduation that pays an average of $62,400, with ample opportunity for advancement.
“It’s not a dead end,” Britt says.
Employers want workers with an academic foundation andworkplace skills, writes Goldberg. It’s not either or. ”Everyone will need some opportunity to gain practical experience through internships, apprenticeships, or perhaps working their way through college” whether they pursue a technical or liberal arts degree. The question is: How do we enable young people to learn academic and workplace skills?
Here’s a sobering statistic: “For the first time in history, the number of jobless workers age 25 and up who have attended some college now exceeds the ranks of those who settled for a high school diploma or less,” reports Investors Business Daily.
Instead of wait lists and closed classes, Santa Monica College in California wants to offer premium-priced sections of crowded courses, reports the Los Angeles Times. Students could pay as much as $200 a unit for high-demand courses; the regular rate will be $46 per unit by summer.
Students would be able to use financial aid to pay for the classes, and college officials hope to raise private funds to establish scholarships for needy students.
The 34,000-student Santa Monica campus has one of the highest transfer rates to four-year universities in the state and a reputation for innovative programs that are a model for other community colleges. But some say higher-priced classes are tantamount to privatizing the public institution.
Administrators say the plan is a reaction to drastic state funding cuts, which have forced the campus to pare more than 1,000 class sections since 2008. In the current year, funding was reduced by $11 million. The campus could lose an additional $5 million in the 2012-13 budget year if a tax initiative on the November ballot fails.
The plan is unfair to low-income students, critics charge. And it’s not at all clear that it’s legal, although the college plans to create a nonprofit foundation to run the program.
Premium pricing is not a new idea, notes Community College Dean. Two years ago, Bristol Community College in Massachusetts contracted with a for-profit provider to offer nursing classes at a premium price to students who didn’t want to wait to get into low-cost sections. “It’s the academic equivalent of a next-day shipping option,” the dean writes.
Community colleges offer services far below cost, using state and local subsidies, the dean explains.
The theory behind the subsidies is that the entire population benefits from having an educated workforce and citizenry, so it’s fair to have the entire population kick in some money.
. . . But when the subsidies don’t track enrollments — which they absolutely have not for many years now — growth is a problem for a college. In the Massachusetts case, student fees didn’t come close to paying for the cost of more nursing seats. In the California case, incredibly enough, the low tuition that students pay goes entirely to the state; the college keeps none of it. In that system, new enrollments are pure cost.
The “express shipping” option already exists for students from wealthy families, who “can buy their way into undistinguished private colleges,” the dean notes. Public colleges are supposed to be the alternative.
Many low-income and minority students enroll in for-profit colleges, which aren’t subsidized and therefore charge much higher tuition than community colleges or public universities. It’s a form of premium pricing. Since for-profit colleges make money from new students, they add courses immediately to meet demand. Students pay more — nearly always with federal aid — and get the classes they need. At the two-year level, for-profit students have much higher completion rates than community college students, so the premium may be worth it. That’s not true for four-year for-profit programs, which have lower completion rates.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick proposed centralizing the state’s community college system in his State of the Commonwealth address, reports the Boston Globe.
Patrick highlighted the connection between the often overlooked schools and the unemployment problem. Encouraging more cooperation between schools and local employers, he said, would help the state’s 240,000 unemployed get the skills they need to fill an estimated 120,000 current job openings, many of which require specific training.
“We have a skills gap,’’ Patrick told the packed House chamber at the State House. “We can do something about that. We can help people get back to work. And our community colleges should be at the very center of it.’’
A November report describes the state’s community college system as “disjointed and inadequate in its preparation of students for technical careers,” notes the Globe.
Patrick’s proposal will let a central board dole out funding to individual colleges, taking into account enrollment and several performance measures. The new plan is also intended to make it easier for students to transfer credits between colleges, a frequent source of complaints.
Patrick is proposing a $10 million increase in the community college system’s budget for the coming year to fund the transition.
Massachusetts should expand statewide control of its 15 community colleges argues a new report from the influential Boston Foundation. In the centralized system focused on job training, colleges should be judged and funded based on student performance, the report concluded.
The state’s community colleges “have failed to connect in a systemic way with prospective workforce, economic development and employer partners,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
As a result there is no way to make broad curriculum changes based on workforce needs, it argues, and colleges and community-based groups compete for resources rather than cooperate.
“There are good programs within the community college system, but the system as a whole is under-resourced, overly fragmented, and not well aligned with the needs of Massachusetts employers in the knowledge economy,” said Paul S. Grogan, the foundation’s president, in a written statement.
Virginia’s centralized community college system was offered as a model for Massachusetts.
Community college presidents believe they already collaborate, reports the Boston Globe.
“We think we’re doing a hell of a lot better job than we did in the past,’’ said William Messner, president of Holyoke Community College. “We’re on the case.’’
Job training “what we do,” said Ira Rubenzahl, president of Springfield Technical Community College, who was a panelist for the report’s presentation. “We’ve been doing it for 50 years.’’ “I’m concerned that [the proposed structural changes] will be disruptive at a time when our institutions are fragile.’’
The system needs “radical change,” not “tweaking,” responded Grogan.
Next door in Connecticut, the community colleges will share a state board with the Connecticut State University System, a move that’s not popular with college officials.
“Board consolidation is a trendy idea in some states, particularly when budgets are tight,” notes Inside Higher Ed. Louisiana may merge its higher education boards. A proposal in Rhode Island would create a single K-12 and higher education board.
Decentralization is on the table in other states, such as Wisconsin, which may separate its flagship university from the rest of the state university system.