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Colleges Team Up to Triple Number of Certificates Awarded

By Reyna Gobel

Three Virginia community colleges partner to increase the number of students earning at least a professional certificate over a five-year period.

Community colleges are renowned for their ability to work with industry to meet shifting economic demands. But workforce training doesn’t come cheap.

To launch a new degree or certificate program requires investment in curriculum, professional development, equipment and facilities, among other costs.

Finding the money and resources to subsidize even one of these programs can be a challenge, particularly in cash-strapped rural communities. As the demand for college-educated professionals increases — a recent report from the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce establishes a link between certificates and gainful employment — the need for campus-based workforce education and training has intensified.

Working together

In Virginia, three community colleges recently teamed up to triple the number of professional certificates awarded to students in the next five years. By combining resources and sharing facilities, administrators realized the colleges could reach more students together than apart.

The partner colleges — Danville Community College (DCC), Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) and Southside Virginia Community College — will pool resources to offer different training programs at each of the three campuses. Rather than launch redundant programs, the colleges plan to share resources, including faculty and facilities — even moveable furniture — to meet a wider range of student and employer needs.

All three colleges dot the same highway, which makes it easier for students to travel between campuses.

Why certificates? To hear DCC President Bruce R. Scism tell it, there is an intense need for new forms of professional training within the community. Where residents used to be able to rely on well-paying manufacturing jobs that did not require a college degree, recent employment trends require employees to have college experience. In many cases, students can obtain a job with a professional certificate and advance their careers with higher levels of education.

How does it work? For the colleges, the first step toward collaboration was the formation of an advisory committee featuring representatives from marketing, public relations, academics, the president’s office and other key departments at each participating college, explains PHCC President Angeline Godwin.

Administrators at each of the colleges compared data to identify the types of training and courses in demand on their campuses. Outreach efforts are underway to promote different training programs to students.

The partnership ensures that administrators know what programs are available on their own campuses as well as at the partner colleges.

Though the collaboration is still in its nascent stages, Godwin and Scism say the partner colleges hope to have the shared model up and running by spring 2015.

Considering partnering with local colleges to promote workforce programs between campuses? Godwin and Scism offer the following four tips from their experience. 

  1. Understand the challenge. “We’re still selling the value of training and education,” says Godwin. Make sure students and administrators know why these programs are important.
  2. Know your region. While unemployment might be high in some sectors, opportunities for employment exist in other areas. Find out where the need is.
  3. Know your students. Community college students often lead busy, complex lives. Offer services, such as childcare and transportation, to help them better manage their educations.
  4. Be creative. “You have to be entrepreneurial and seek out opportunities for students,” says Godwin. Noncredit courses are sometimes a good starting point.
Reyna Gobel

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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