Rochester college faces a post-Kodak moment

As Eastman Kodak’s slid into bankruptcy, disrupting the economy of Rochester, New York,  Monroe Community College remade its workforce development programs to help its town recover, reports Community College Week.

Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb once accounted for 60 percent of Rochester’s workforce. That’s now down to 5 percent.

“We went from the Big 3 with thousands of workers to lots of companies with fewer than 100 employees,” says Anne Kress, MCC’s president. Because smaller companies couldn’t afford to train their workers, the college became a “convener,” working with industry clusters instead of individual companies.

“It’s a natural role for community colleges to take a leadership position in responding to workforce development needs,” Kress said. “These needs change frequently. We are naturally positioned to get people around the table to address them.”

Kress tapped Todd M. Oldham, then associate vice president of Corporate & Continuing Education at Clark College in Vancouver, Wash., to head the new workforce division at MCC. His charge: rebuild MCC’s long dormant bridges to business, industry and economic development sectors and develop strategies to respond to local economic development and training needs — all without constructing just another administrative silo isolated from the traditional academic functions of the college.

MCC is creating pathways to middle-skill jobs in fields such as computer technology, health care and advanced manufacturing, Oldham says.

Jim Sydor, a 1971 MCC graduate and owner of Stefan Sydor Optics, is helping the college strengthen its optical systems technology program. “Rochester is a big optics town, because of Eastman Kodak and Bausch & Lomb,” he says. But MCC’s optics program withered when Kodak began laying off workers. Students didn’t realize there are 85 smaller optics companies in town looking for qualified workers. With a $250,000 gift from Sydor, MCC rewrote the optics curriculum, bought new equipment and recruited students.

MCC provides a summer career prep program for high school students as well as MCC Career Coach, a web-based search tool showing connections between areas of study and local job opportunities.

Companies provide ‘just-in-time’ education

A dozen Fortune 500 companies are teaching business skills to their workers, writes Christopher Connell in the Hechinger Report. Often employees can earn college credits as well as promotions, starting them on the path to a degree.

Mark Allen, a Pepperdine University business professor and author of “The Next Generation of Corporate Universities,” likens it to the kind of efficient, just-in-time logistics that keep costly inventories low until they’re needed. It’s also a reflection of companies’ impatience with the pace at which conventional higher education adapts to workplace needs.

“What companies like is just-in-time learning that gives somebody a skill they need at the time they need it,” Allen says. “What traditional universities do to a large extent is just-in-case learning.”

Starbucks workers earn credits from City University of Seattle for “Barista Basics” and “Barista 101” and higher-level management courses.

Jiffy Lube University teaches the company’s standards and culture to franchisees. The University of Farmers also imparts corporate values and culture to Farmers Insurance Company’s agents.

McDonald’s sends 5,000 managers and prospective managers each year to the chain’s Hamburger University for a week of business training.

“Selling hamburgers is what we do. But it’s the business philosophy and leadership that creates success,” says Shelly Hicks, who first came through Hamburger University’s doors when she was a restaurant manager in Nashville and now is one of the 16 “professors” at Oak Brook (Illinois).

McDonald’s store managers can earn up to 23 credits toward associate’s or bachelor’s degrees for the courses they take at Hamburger U, and higher-ups can earn as many as 27 credits; Hicks used hers toward a business degree and went on to get a master’s degree in adult education that helps her in her training role.

Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College counts 18 McDonald’s training credits toward associate’s degrees. Some Hamburger U students get their transcripts approved by the American Council on Education so they can use the credits toward degrees at accredited universities.

What’s the community colleges’ niche?

Community colleges should “focus on their historic strength, general education,” and let for-profit colleges handle “high-cost vocational programs,” suggests Community College Dean. Vocational training is “their niche, they’re (sometimes) good at it, and they can charge enough to sustain themselves while doing it.”

Specialization makes sense, the dean argues.

One camp says that the way to compete with the for-profits is to do it all.  Another says that we should become more like them, and focus more intensely on workforce training.  I’m thinking those are both basically doomed.  The way to thrive in the new normal is not to try to be great at everything; the world is just too big.  Instead, it’s to find something you do really well, and own that.  Let the for-profits handle HVAC repair and dental hygiene; let the community colleges do the first two years of four year degrees.

These days, community colleges are struggling with general education, which is hard to do when so many students are unprepared for college work. By contrast, they’re getting lots of attention and praise for workforce training. It’s easier to get students to a vocational certificate than to an associate degree.

Pell opens college doors for rural students

As Pell Grants grew in value, more rural students in Kansas enrolled in community college and moved from part-time to full-time status, concludes a University of Alabama study.

Pell Grant dollars distributed to Kansas students nearly doubled between 2008 and 2010.  The rise in community college enrollment was especially significant in western Kansas, which has flat or declining population.

 . . . increased Pell funding clearly helps western, rural Kansas educate larger percentages of its present workforce—a workforce that is already in place, committed to staying and building the region.

. . .  in rural America, there is no training alternative to the rural community college. Their health is tied to the long-term skills of the rural workforce.

For example, Garden City Community College is located in rural Finney County, which lost 9.1 percent of population between 2000 and 2010.

Keeping talented young people is a major challenge, and Pell Grants are an important partner for rural Kansas. In Fall 2008, 538 GCCC students received $928,610 in Pell Grant awards; this figure jumped to 748 students and $1,619,004 in Fall 2010. The dollar value of Pell grew by 57%, as total awards grew 39%.

The impact was to lower the net marginal cost by 4%, which in turn opened wider the doors to postsecondary opportunities for price sensitive rural students to take more credit hours. In Fall 2008, 903 students attended full-time and 1,232 attended part-time; by Fall 2010, 1,046 attended full-time and 1,084 attended part-time. The percentage of students attending full- time rose sharply, from 42% to 49% in just two years, as more students take more credit hours.

“By strengthening the base of full-time students, Pell has improved our economies of scale, enabling us to better serve our non-credit workforce training function to reach workers displaced by the recession,” President Herbert J. Swender said.


Educating citizens, not just workers

Pressured to prepare graduates for the workforce, America’s higher education system must not forget its civic and democratic mission, asserts A Crucible Moment, a report released today by U.S. Department of Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Too few graduates are prepared to be active citizens of a democracy, writes Carol Geary Schneider, president of the AAC&U, in a guest post on College Inc.

American colleges and universities—and yes, our community colleges too—were created first and foremost to ensure the future of our democracy.

Concerned about global competition, “many public leaders now are actively promoting witheringly reductive versions of college learning” that treat  “history, world cultures, anthropology, philosophy, literature and the other humanities” as an “unaffordable luxury,” Schneider writes.

. . . with short-term certificates, for-profit trade schools and pared-down degree programs now widely touted as models of admirable efficiency, we are far down the path toward creating a two-tiered system in which some students still get a horizon-expanding and civic-minded liberal education, while too many others receive narrow training that is palpably indifferent either to any responsibility for democracy or to the needs of a vibrant economy.

A national forum today, “For Democracy’s Future: Education Reclaims Its Civic Mission,” will push back against the focus on college as workforce preparation only.

College majors—including those that prepare students directly for jobs—need to play their own part in teaching students how their chosen fields intersect with a democratic society.

. . . Those preparing for careers in science, health, engineering, education, public service, business, accounting and the trades all need practical experience in examining the kind of public questions with which every field inevitably wrestles. Today’s students need—both for democracy and the economy—not just to analyze issues, but to work together with others from different backgrounds in finding achievable solutions to actively contested questions.

Miami Dade College, which educates more than 150,000 largely first-generation students, has made civic responsibility a degree requirement, Schneider writes. Some universities now require public service or projects that benefit the community.

A Crucible Moment calls for expanding campus-community partnerships, so students can tackle real problems in their communities.

“We do not have to jettison our commitment to civic learning in order to prepare students for success in the knowledge economy,” Schneider writes.

Pell cuts hurt year-round students

Though funding for traditional Pell Grants survived debt-ceiling negotiations, Congress cut funding for year-round students. Adult students don’t want to take summers off, says Lillian Ortiz, interim dean of students at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, Connecticut.

“We’re finding that… because our average age is 26, these are folks that are needing to go through school at a quicker pace to get back into the work force,” Ortiz said.

College officials stressed the importance of Pell Grants in funding workforce training when Sen. Richard Blumenthal came for a visit.

NVCC’s enrollment has grown by 20 percent in the past three years: a majority of students receive Pell Grants.

Ultimately, the focus for NVCC is to get people “back into jobs,” Ortiz said.

“Our core goal now should be not only getting people through a two-year program, but to get them certificates, get them six-months programs, working with the work-force development boards,” she said. “There are people in manufacturing that are seeking employees but they’re not prepared and trained to go into work. This is where community colleges are flexible enough to train people to get back into work… and this is what’s hopefully going to kick the economy back to movement.”

Blumenthal, a Democrat, agreed that community colleges need more funding. “We should resist the calls to cut Pell Grants or other kinds of federal funding for student aid, as well as any kind of spending in any of our community colleges, we ought to expand that,” Blumenthal said later at  Manchester Community College.