As the public discourse over higher education rages, the rhetoric has become so heated, that many are missing out on a lot of the ways postsecondary institutions are rapidly evolving to meet the ever-changing demands of our society, especially for gainful employment and economic revitalization.
One example is the way community colleges are expanding their job training opportunities within their local communities. Here is a portion of the menu offered by these unique programs.
Nearly one-half of the world’s consumption of seafood is derived from fisheries, and Indian River State College in Florida is poised to help meet the growing demand in this area with its certificate and associate degree in aquaculture. This program can also lead to a bachelor of applied science in organizational management. Back in 1998 when it was a community college, IRSC partnered with the Aquaculture Center for Training, Education and Demonstration (ACTED) to begin a program that rapidly expanded into a four-year degree option. According to the IRSC, “this unique degree program integrates traditional classroom learning with practical industry experience, preparing students to build a career, start or expand an aquaculture business, or implement new technology into traditional farming.”
This program also boosts the local economy by not only employing people in the field of aquaculture, but also by helping connected industries, such as transportation, regionally and beyond.
Recently, PBS posted a story about how Washington State has become a center for viticulture; therefore, Walla Walla Community College began its own wine school 12 years ago, and it continues to thrive (10 September, 2012).
As PBS correspondent Jeffrey Brown accurately summarized, “Leaders in business and politics are increasingly looking to community colleges to help train students and, in some cases, even connect them directly with potential employers.” In this area of Washington, there are over 700 wineries, and each needs to find skilled employees to run their businesses. Although many tend to think of this as easy work, sitting around beautiful vineyards sipping good wine, instructor Tim Donahue stated for PBS that it’s “definitely a blue collar job,” involving a lot of hands-on work, such as grape pressing and heavy lifting.
What is even more telling is the effect this has had on student lives and the local community. The PBS post includes the story of graduate Tyler Tennyson, who, like many, was laid off from a good job as a commercial appraiser. He graduated from the wine-making program, and now works as a cellar master. Most jobs in this field pay $25,000-$55,000 a year. Over the last 12 years, Walla Walla Washington has reinvented itself as a center for viticulture and tourism, revitalizing an economy that had nearly completely collapsed in the 1990s.
MLive contributor, William E. Ketchum III, recently shared information on a first for Mott Community College’s Media Arts and Entertainment (MAET) program (19 September, 2012). Last night, the school hosted its “First Annual Student Short Film Showcase” free for the public. At this event, five films produced by Mott students were presented:
• Students Ray Smith, Amie Vaughn, Heidi Great, Colton Mokofsky and Zach Bolin crafted “Fortune of the Foolish,” a film about a superstitious woman searching for a powerful talisman to erase her bad luck.
• “Not Dead Yet,” which is by Nick Huey, Zach Gordan, Joel Muxlow, and Jeff Ostby, finds a college student whose science project takes a life of its own.
• “Willie” is described as “a man who lives in a woman’s world, wants out.” The film was created by Corey Planck, Dani Nettleton, Josh Wisanbaugh, Andrew Baker, and Kevin Lane.
• “Traditions of Bedlam”—which was put together by Vince Hughes, Jacob Ruether, Jeff Perry, and Alex Walters—sees a drifter attempting to backtrack memories of his life after waking up in a restaurant.
• The last film, “Wilting Flower,” is about a “young, troubled woman” in danger when she meets her next customer. (Ketchum, W.E., 19 September, 2012)
The event follows a similar showcase of documentaries created by Mott students in the program.
How does a Fine Arts program help the local community? According to an IHS Global Insight report released earlier this year, Flint, Michigan, where Mott Community College is located, was the 5th most devastated city in the nation during the recent recession, and one that was described as “nearly destroyed” by the economic downturn (20 January, 2012). The State of Michigan views investing in the film industry as a way to replace the collapsed auto industry in areas like Flint as films not only employ actors and camera operators, they also bring business to hotels, restaurants, construction, and such.
Furthermore, the school has launched Career Coach,a new online tool by which students and community members can explore different job options and make links between careers, needed training, and applications for open positions. This will also help facilitate a larger economic recovery.
A La Carte?
The list of unique opportunities offered by community colleges is a virtual smorgasbord. The Minneapolis Community and Technical College expandable list of programs provides a good example. Here prospective students can choose from majors in aviation, homeland security, American Sign Language, Arabic, biotechnology, and more.
Here are a few more examples:
• Jackson Community College in Michigan offers a Brazilian internship program that provides cross-cultural learning and career preparation to its participants.
• Tallahassee Community College may consider offering a new museum studies program based on input from the local community.
• Some community colleges in New York will be offering new degrees in areas such as nanotechnology and advanced aerospace science.
Certainly, there are many more unique learning opportunities offered by community colleges and other postsecondary institutions that could be highlighted and considered by prospective students. The important point is that colleges and universities, especially community colleges, are working hard to meet local demands for gainful employment and job training. More importantly, they are succeeding not only at bringing these offerings to their respective communities, but also in helping to improve the economic situation regionally, nationally, and in some ways, globally. They should be commended for these efforts and successes.
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