Skilled trades don’t appeal to students

Manufacturing student at Macomb Community College

“Nearly everywhere he goes, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder talks about well-paying, but unfilled, welding, carpentry, machining and other skilled-trades jobs, as well as technical occupations in health care,” writes Rick Hagland in Bridge Magazine. Yet, community college training programs in skilled trades are having difficulty recruiting students.

Skilled trades workers can earn $50,000 to $100,000 a year, say community college officials. But many students are dubious, especially if they have family members who lost manufacturing jobs in the recession.

“We’ve done a great job of convincing kids to go to college, but we’ve left the skilled trades out,” said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association.

Just 4.5 percent of Michigan community college students were enrolled in technical or industrial programs in the 2012-13 academic year, according to the state Workforce Development Agency. Another 7.7 percent were enrolled in health occupation programs.

. . . “For the most part, it’s hard to interest people in the 18-to-24 age group in occupations like welding and CNC (computer numerical control) machine operators,” Hansen said.

Employers want skilled workers, said Joe Petrosky, dean of engineering and advanced technology at Macomb Community College. “We’ve seen the demand for worker training come roaring back,” he said.

Eight community colleges in the state, including Macomb, will use a $24.9 million federal grant “to upgrade facilities and train more than 2,700 workers in machining, production, welding and fabrication, and multi-skilled technical positions,” writes Hagland.

Macomb also is among four community colleges in the state participating in the new MAT2 apprenticeship program, a three-year training program for engineering technician, information technology and technical product design jobs.

High school seniors and recent graduates entering the program get paid for on-the-job training from employers who also pay tuition costs. Those who complete the program get an associate degree and a guaranteed job.

Mottt Community College in Flint, Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills and Henry Ford College in Dearborn also will participate with 18 manufacturing employers.

Enrollment is declining at Michigan community colleges.

CCs add 4-year degrees, but face pushback

Twenty-three Florida community colleges now offer four-year degrees in high-demand vocational fields, but a bill in the Legislature would prevent colleges from adding bachelor’s degrees without legislative approval. Currently, the state education board authorizes new four-year degrees at two-year colleges.

With tuition two-thirds cheaper at a community college compared to a state university, the lawmakers behind the bill warn that it’s unfair competition. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), said many community colleges are offering more than just specialized bachelor’s degrees, such as nursing and public safety, and are competing with state universities to offer more general degrees, like history, at less cost.

Gov. Rick Scott thinks competition will help students. He’s challenged community colleges to offer four-year degrees with a price tag of $10,000. Daytona State College will be the first with a $10,000 bachelor’s in education.

Students are enthusiastic about the four-year option, writes Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.  At Florida community colleges — now called state colleges — more than 30,000 students are pursuing bachelor’s degrees.

It’s cheaper and more convenient than attending a four-year university, especially for working parents and part-time students, who make up a large proportion of community college attendees.

The cost of a baccalaureate course at St. Petersburg College is $118.70 per credit hour, compared to $211.19 at the nearby University of South Florida. . . .

Universities are resisting the trend in many states. Community colleges typically are limited to degrees in vocational fields.

Colorado legislators approved letting community colleges offer four-year degrees only after satisfying Colorado State University and the University of Colorado — whose lobbying was blamed for killing a previous version of a proposal — that they would be limited to career and technical fields such as culinary arts and dental hygiene.

In Michigan, similar legislation was passed over the concerted, years-long opposition of that state’s public universities, which said letting community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees was mission creep, blurs the distinction between different branches of higher education and raises quality concerns. In the end, the community colleges were limited to baccalaureate programs in maritime studies, culinary arts, energy production and concrete technology.

California legislators have rejected four-year degrees at community college three times since 2009, but a new proposal has a good chance of success.

California’s 2-year colleges eye 4-year degrees

California’s 112 community colleges may seek permission to offer bachelor’s degrees, reports Inside Higher Ed. A committee is studying the question.

A bachelor’s degree option could “increase college participation rates for local residents who are unable to relocate because of family or work commitments,” said Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris’s office, in a statement.

Twenty-one states now let two-year colleges offer some four-year degrees, especially in technical and occupational fields. Florida is a leader in expanding four-year options at community colleges, which are now called “state colleges.”

However, there’s plenty of pushback, Inside Higher Ed notes. Public universities don’t like to compete for students and state funding. In Michigan, public universities are fighting a new law that lets community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in technical fields.

While some at community colleges worry about “mission creep,” others say a four-year option makes sense.

Community colleges cannot meet the demand for skilled workers in technical fields, said Bill Scroggins, president and CEO of Mt. San Antonio College.

Those jobs are also changing, said Scroggins, who is a committee member. Many employers are have added new hiring requirements for applicants to hold bachelor’s degrees. Nursing is a key example. As a result, two-year degrees no longer cut it in certain fields.

The 16-member committee is considering “applied” baccalaureates in nursing and technical fields.

Michigan: CCs can offer some 4-year degrees

Michigan community colleges will offer bachelor’s degrees in specified vocational fields, under legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder. The bill covers four-year degrees in cement technology, maritime technology, energy production technology and culinary arts. Nursing was cut out of the bill in a compromise to overcome opposition from state universities.

Community colleges add 4-year degrees

In 21 states, community colleges are adding bachelor’s degrees, reports Community College Week. Other states may follow the trend.

Florida has led the way with 22 community colleges offering bachelor’s degrees in nursing, elementary education, business management and other fields. All are built on associate degree programs and meet local workforce needs.

Florida State College at Jacksonville, which offers 12 baccalaureate degrees, is careful not to expand into low-demand fields, said Donald Green, executive vice-president for instruction and student services. “We want to identify high wage areas where people can make a decent living.”

Universities see the trend as “mission creep.”  In Michigan, universities are fighting a proposal to let community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in maritime technology, concrete technology, energy production, culinary studies and nursing.

 Since 2004, a series of state and national reports has prodded Michigan to allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees in high-need fields. The state has the sixth-highest tuition rate for a public four-year degree in the nation, according to the Michigan Community College Association.

“Michigan is at a critical point in its history,” says a MCCA report. “As the state transitions to a knowledge-based economy, increasing the educational attainment of the workforce is paramount. The community college baccalaureate degree would allow colleges to respond to workforce shortages in specific regions, and in specific corporations and industries.”

But the state’s public universities, led by the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State, “complain the community colleges would be competing for pieces of a shrinking budget pie and that the community college baccalaureate would be of inferior quality,” reports Community College Week. A bill to enable community colleges to add four-year degrees is stalled in the legislature.



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.

Michigan may let 2-year colleges offer 4-year degrees

Michigan’s community colleges want to award four-year degrees, reports the Lansing State Journal.

Northwestern Michigan College is the only school in Michigan that can count a 224-foot former Navy submarine surveillance ship among its classroom facilities.

The Traverse City community college is home to the only federally chartered maritime academy on fresh water and the only one that can’t offer its students the four-year degrees they need to sit for the U.S. Coast Guard licensing exam for commercial shipping officers.

The college’s imperfect solution is a partnership with Ferris State University that allows cadets to get a business degree but requires them to take 145 credits to finish both the nautical and financial portions of their education, rather than the 120 typical for a bachelor’s degree.

Community college leaders support a bill that would let two-year schools offer four-year degrees in five fields. However, state universities are opposing the proposed legislation.


11th graders start college in Michigan

Michigan is turning to early college programs to introduce high school students to college challenges, reports the Lansing State Journal.

Kaitlin Kennedy, 17, didn’t have “real plans” for college as a student at  Lansing’s Eastern High School.

“For one thing, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” Kennedy said. “For another, my family doesn’t have a lot of money.”

But the chance to attend Lansing Community College at no cost seemed too good to pass up.

There are 26 early or middle colleges in Michigan, schools that blend high school and college course work to varying degrees.

All but a few opened their doors in the last five years after the state, searching for solutions to Michigan’s lagging levels of educational attainment, began funding their creation with grants.

They are meant for those who may never have gone to college at all or who were more likely drop out once they got there.

Lansing’s early college program gives enrollment priority goes to first-generation and low-income students in the county. Abilities vary. Some students will take high school classes at the college through the end of senior year, but half are taking some college-level classes this semester. The goal is to enable students like Kennedy to complete an associate degree by the end of the three-year program.

Low-income students ‘maximize debt’

Inspired by Education Sector’s Debt-to-Degree report, the Flint (Michigan) Journal looked at   how much local students are spending per degree.

At Flint’s Mott Community College, dividing total degrees awarded by total undergraduate debt, yields a debt load of $10,171 per degree for 2007-09.  That’s better than Henry Ford Community College ($22,691) but much higher than Southwestern Michigan College ($81.19). 

Unemployment is high and incomes are low in Flint. “Some students take longer to get a degree, stopping and starting school several times because of jobs or families,” reports the Journal. “Some use college loans to pay life expenses as well as tuition.”

MCC Spokesman Michael Kelly said Genesee County’s economy is a big culprit. Many low-income students have their tuition covered by the Pell grant, but still take out loans for other expenses, he said.

“This is also being perceived as a revenue stream, as a source of income,” Kelly said of loans. “They’re taking out more money than education expenses require and using it for rent, groceries and car payments.

“They’re maximizing their debt.”

He said MCC officials last year tried to reduce the amount students borrowed but were told by U.S. Department of Education officials that that wasn’t an option.

Borrowing to pay living expenses is a very dangerous strategy for high-risk students. Student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.

“If students are going to borrow money and pay those loans back, they need to get a degree,” said Education Sector policy director Kevin Carey. “The job market doesn’t give partial credit for going to college and not graduating.

Brandon Kreiner, 24, dropped out of University of Michigan at Flint after three years because of poor grades, then spent three years at Macomb Community College to raise his grade point average. Now back at UM-Flint, he’ll need three more years to complete a degree in secondary education. He expects he’ll owe $30,000 in student loans, despite receiving Pell Grant aid.  “As long as I can get a job, I’ll be able to pay it back,” Kreiner said, “but the teaching industry isn’t great in Michigan right now.” Even if schools are hiring, a would-be teacher with poor grades will be competing with stronger candidates.


CC enrollment surge is over

After years of rapidly rising demand, community colleges are projecting flat enrollments for the fall, reports Community College Times.  “On average, a range of decreases from 5 percent to increases of about 5 percent” is likely.

Michigan’s Washtenaw Community College predicts a decline of up to 9 percent, while Grand Rapids Community College is seeing a 1.8 percent drop. Both lost students when the state’s No Worker Left Behind program, which paid for two years of college for laid-off workers, expired.

Population changes are affecting enrollment: In 27 states, mostly in the North, the number of high school graduates is declining.

California community colleges don’t have funding to provide classes for students.

San Bernardino Valley College (SBVC) in California has no shortage of people who want to take classes, yet enrollment is down 14 percent from last year. That’s because the state mandates how many full-time equivalent students it will fund, and this year that number was cut. If the college admits more than that cut-off number, it assumes the costs, which SBVC can’t afford, according to President Debra Daniels.

Many of the classrooms have lines out the door of people just hoping that they can take the seat of someone who may not show up for class.

“It breaks my heart,” Daniels said. “People want in and they can’t get in.”

Community college leaders in California are now concerned about possible mid-year cuts by the state, which would prompt them to turn away more students, cut programs, or reduce classes or student services.

Elsewhere, some community colleges report the same number of students are taking fewer credit hours. Some are working several part-time jobs, while others can’t afford full-time tuition.

Other community colleges are growing at much slower rates: Indiana’s Ivy Tech grew by 73 percent over  seven years; this year, enrollment is up by 2 percent.