The nation’s community colleges have long taken pride in their ability to react to economic change: A blue-chip employer opens a factory — the local community college provides the training. Emerging industries, such as wind and solar, create new career opportunities — the college offers certificates and degrees to enable students to land those jobs.
But as most administrators know, reacting to employer demand requires more than keeping your finger on the pulse of industry. In many cases, it requires developing an entirely new curriculum.
It’s a reality that John Goberish, dean of workforce and continuing education at the Community College of Beaver County (CCBC), in Pennsylvania, knows well.
When Shell Oil Co. announced plans to open a natural-gas refinery near CCBC’s campus, the college reacted by creating a process-technology program for students.
Armed with a grant from the National Science Foundation, Goberish visited other colleges in Texas for ideas and helped develop a suite of courses that are scheduled to begin in early 2015.
Looking to develop a curriculum at your college to serve emerging economic demand? Goberish shares five tips from his recent experience.
Identify the need. When built, the new Shell plant will be just two miles from CCBC. Goberish and his team recognized early on that the region’s aging workforce would be unable to meet the industry’s need; workers would need new training, education and skills to succeed in an area once dominated by steel mills.
Consider the big picture. “You need to clarify and identify your existing offerings and curriculum,” Goberish says. CCBC has a “go/no go” process that establishes clear guidelines as faculty evaluate the viability of new educational programs. Factors such as cost, qualified instructors and appropriate training facilities must be considered before a project can move forward.
Another factor to consider is the type of certificates and degrees awarded. Administrators must decide whether they want to offer noncredit learning, a full two-year associate degree or a 36-credit certificate program. How the program gets built depends on what path the administrators decide to take.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. When it comes to developing a curriculum, you can bet someone has done it before. Identify promising practices in the field, and talk with other colleges about what works and what doesn’t.
Get support from the community. It’s important to connect with community and parent organizations to spread the word and help people understand what the program is and why it’s important, says Goberish. Technical careers don’t always have the best reputation, so it’s important to get out there, talk to people and explain the work.
Change your mindset. Sometimes, you have to think more like an entrepreneur than an educator, Goberish says. Building and maintaining long-term relationships is key. The process may be unfamiliar, even uncomfortable, but it’s necessary.
“You have to invest time and build a network,” Goberish says. “You have to continually follow up, and that’s time consuming.” But when you do, “it connects you to what’s really happening out there.”
Have any tips for launching a new curriculum at your college? Tell us in the Comments.