Technical and community colleges provide the launching pad for student success

11/19/2010  |  BRYAN ALBRECHT
technical colleges

Technical colleges provide viable and diverse options for students to obtain high quality educational training, a pathway for graduates right out of high school as well as underemployed and unemployed workers seeking retraining or a new career. Whether it’s a first career, second or third, technical and community colleges provide lifelong learning.

For example, Gateway Technical College provides a launching pad for many recent high school graduates seeking to enter their career quicker, more affordably and in high-demand technical fields. And it doesn’t end there. Gateway, like many technical colleges, has hammered out transfer agreements with four-year colleges — 35 and counting — for program graduates who want to continue their education. Many times these students go directly to work after graduation and earn their bachelor’s degree because of the training and skills they’ve received at the technical or community college.

Today’s high school students must consider technical colleges as they work with their counselors and parents on their career development pathway. Many today are simply going to a four-year college rather than working out that career pathway and determining the best match for their educational needs. In many ways, technical colleges can match today’s youth to their career goal through providing an expanding number of career opportunities.

A College of First Choice

Parents and counselors considering technical or community colleges as a career path for today’s youth should realize the opportunities they offer students and determine that they can — and should — be the college of first choice for many. An example are new high school graduates seeking career options upon graduation who believe a four-year college may be unable to meet their educational needs at that time. Needs that range from flexible course scheduling, location to affordability or the type of career desired.

Technical and community colleges provide program offerings in high-demand career areas. They provide students with the pathway to enter their career field in half the time. The education, delivered by industry-savvy instructors using state-of-the-art equipment, is as high quality — and many times, more so — than four-year colleges. Students can enroll in programs like information technology, nursing, accounting, engineering, graphic communications, mechanical design, fire protection training, human services and many others to earn their degree. Then they can enter their career quickly, and in their skill set. They can then choose whether to continue to a bachelor’s degree.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) postsecondary schools also provide the opportunity for many to enter their career even more quickly through colleges forging partnerships with area high schools in areas of tech prep, Youth Options, apprenticeship and Project Lead the Way. These partnerships provide high-schoolers with the opportunity to enroll at the college and earn program credits and receive training before they graduate high school.

Many students at Gateway have benefited from these relationships, allowing students who are as young as 19 to begin their career — or to continue on to a four-year college through the transfer agreements and graduate as much as a year or more ahead of their peers.

High Demand Careers

Technical education provides students with career options in high-demand careers because of their direct connections to local workforce needs through advisory committees, partnerships with industry, job placement, employer satisfaction studies, connections with workforce development boards and apprenticeship training.

Workforce data indicates a rise in the need for workers in middle skills jobs which will only increase as baby boomers retire. Jobs in those careers are good-paying, solid options for today’s students. And, training for them is offered at technical colleges such as Gateway. Technical colleges offer a key area for career development.

At Gateway, our most recent graduate follow-up survey shows that nearly nine of every 10 graduates have secured employment within six months of graduation, six in 10 in their field of training. Those numbers hold true for the entire Wisconsin Technical College System.

Career development seeps into all aspects of student life at technical colleges, including student groups. Student groups provide students with leadership opportunities, international exchange programs and student government experiences. It allows students to peek into their future career, to network with students and businesses, and to train with career professionals as part of their student group, or engage in one of the many career-focused competitions.

Flexible, Affordable, Successful

Technical and community colleges offer sound educational options affordably and allow students to tailor their education to fit their life circumstances. Students can attend full-time or part-time, in brick-and-mortar classrooms or through online courses. Small class sizes support individual success. Most faculty members reside in the local community and hold industry credentials in the area they teach. They provide students with training in real-world skills and link students to entry points into their career, which can include providing networking opportunities with working professionals, advice on their educational plan or simply benefiting students with the industry savvy they’ve gained by years of working in their field.

Technical colleges costs are less, compared to four-year colleges, when you consider straight tuition costs and the ability to graduate and begin earning a wage in your chosen career field in half the time. For instance, at Gateway, an in-state resident can earn a civil engineering technician associate degree for $7,600, which includes all books. A comparable bachelor’s degree at a state public four-year college may cost up to $30,000 — and even higher for a private college.

Technical and community college graduates have the opportunity to enter the workforce after two years and pursuing their career. CTE postsecondary schools offer a wide array of options for students, including the possibility of advancing in their career field and education, if they so choose.

In addition, those seeking to obtain a four-year degree through one of the many college transfer opportunities do so at a reduced final cost, having gained the first two years of their education at that reduced rate. It can sometimes be one-fourth the amount as they transfer into a private college. Finally, an increasing number of students take general education credits at technical college — paying far less for those credits — and transfer them to their four-year college.

Tech Colleges Meet you Where You’re At

Technical colleges such as Gateway truly meet students wherever they are in life, or their educational pathway. They provide programs for straight-A, traditional students right out of high school seeking to streamline their educational career, to the mid-career factory worker looking to re-skill in their current career or change careers. If students enroll in a community or technical college, they have an opportunity to work with a diverse population, including students with doctoral degrees, college degrees and underprepared learners.

 Many identify technical and community colleges with retraining laid-off workers and this is certainly true, especially in these economic times — but they offer lifelong learning. These colleges also have a high rate of high school graduates enrolling right out of high school. Entry points for students are as many as are the services to meet their educational goals, including GED, entry-level employment credentials, diplomas, associate degrees and developmental skill acquisition for underprepared learners, those learning English and those unable to meet the admissions requirements of more restrictive college. If needed, students can gain the foundational blocks they can then build upon to enter and then succeed in college.

Flexibility in Training, Variety of Offerings

There is nothing more important than increasing your knowledge and skills in a tight economy. Community and technical colleges are experiencing record increases in enrollment. For example, Gateway has seen a 23 percent increase in fulltime students over last year’s nine percent increase. Other colleges across the country are seeing increases of 20 to 50 percent because students and adults need to get re-skilled for the workforce.

Community and technical colleges across the country analyze workforce data to determine the needs of the future workforce and develop new programs to fill the pipeline of workers.These colleges work to diversify the type of training programs they offer. For example, Gateway has developed new programs in green technology, computer gaming technology and health care because there is a need in our community.

Another trend with community and technical colleges is an increase in the number of online courses offered. A recent survey by the National Research Center for CTE found that 47.5 percent of community colleges offered credit-granting online occupational programs with at least 50 percent of course content online. At Gateway, online programming is also up about 25 percent. We have added online programs in graphic communications, business, information technology and accounting. In order to keep students competitive in the job market, community and technical colleges continuously change and adapt their programs, and program delivery, to meet the needs of students and stay innovative with their offerings.

Technical and community colleges play a key role in the future of our economy and developing a pipeline of qualified workers. They are affordable, but also offer diverse, expanding course offerings, providing students with flexibility and skills for solid careers of today and tomorrow. They are a great launching pad for recent high school graduates looking for a career and yet undetermined on how much higher education they want to undertake. Transfer agreements will provide them with the path to four-year colleges if they choose to do so.

CTE schools, like Gateway, give students a great breadth of educational experiences, improving their job readiness through general studies courses, adult basic education opportunities, and student activities and organizations. No matter their educational background or goals, technical colleges provide students with the success for their future.

Bryan Albrecht is president, Gateway Technical College.

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