It’s an oft-repeated query concerning the topic of graduating from college: Students and their families wonder if it’s worth the money to pay for an education that might not increase the graduate’s earning power.
That can be the case in a liberal arts scenario, which emphasizes general learning and “soft” verbal and written skills, in addition to a given discipline.
Then there are certain industries that need a specific type of worker. Management often has no issue overlooking a perceived lack of “soft” skills for training in the given field when workers are needed, be it in anything from cybersecurity to electrical work to gaming.
And that, in turn, circles back to the role of the colleges. They often offer courses that are designed to educate, as well as refine, an individual, but also focus on offering avenues to in-demand job skills that can all but guarantee almost immediate employment — even before completion of a certain course load, continuing education course or certificate program.
On the topic of colleges integrating with area businesses and government entities to train workers, the community colleges quickly come to mind.
“There’s a plenty happening on the continuing education side, starting with workforce development courses, for the beginning student and the workforce veteran,” said Minah Woo, acting associate vice president, continuing education/workforce development, at Howard Community College (HCC). She pointed to health care programs in nursing, pharmacy technology and even a course set with Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Wilmer Eye Institute, which “came to us because it was having workforce shortage issues.”
A new HCC initiative is magnetic resonance imaging certification for students who hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree and are currently working as a radiology technician. The list goes on, and includes professional certifications for human resources management and for various child care certification providers.
There also are many more programs that are for credit, Woo pointed out, although not all professions require a college degree; others have a degree and just need training for a certificate. “We’re always looking to grow and are very sensitive to market changes,” she said.
Those offerings are slanted to numerous area businesses and government entities “that need customized programs, as opposed to off-the-shelf courses we offer,” said Bob Muir, director of client solutions at HCC, mentioning customized programs for the Howard County government for diversity training and the Howard County Public School System for supervisory training. That can require “going outside the college and work[ing] with subject matter experts to build the course agenda and deliver the program.”
Other HCC clients have included the Maryland State Highway Administration to build management programs and the Department of Defense (DoD) for various agencies, for management training; as well as programs for government contractors with unique needs.
Given the local DoD presence, it’s no surprise when Muir says “about 65%” of HCC’s tailored programs are geared toward government clients, with the rest for private companies or nonprofits; all told, the infusion from continuing education programs represents about $5.5 million (or 15%) of HCC’s total revenues from tuition and fees.
“I’m a recovering businessman, having spent 35 years in sales and marketing,” said Muir, who added a telling caveat: “There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity in our market, and most of the companies that need this kind of training are unaware that it’s available and how it can further their efforts.”
A similar tune is sung at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC), where Kip Kunsman, assistant dean for workforce development, explained that the college’s integration with industry and government “happens in various ways.
“Our Corporate Training Group (CTG, which is based at Arundel Mills) engages with businesses to find out what keeps them up at night,” Kunsman said. “Often, we partner with them to develop curriculum for their staff, which enhances their bottom line by upgrading skills; sometimes they don’t need training, but need mentoring. We can do that, too.”
AACC also partners with long-term clients, like Live! Casino, and is “entrenched in their cultures by assessing and fulfilling their needs.” The college can also work with the state and local governments, like Anne Arundel County and BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport “for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA),” he said, adding that AACC’s homeland security courses were delivered at U.S. airports for more than five years.
The staff at AACC looks at what a company’s goals are before deciding whether to make a line of training credit or non-credit. “Cost depends on different factors, such as instructor expense, materials and space. It is directly related to the local market; cyber instructors usually cost more than MS Word instructors, for instance,” Kunsman said.
And as the work world turns, so do the offerings that industry needs from AACC.
“Every year, it’s like starting at ground zero,” he said. “We have a pipeline that we work with,” which was filled by just more than 100 companies in fiscal 2017. “There is always churn, especially when you’ve met the needs of an organization. That’s why we’re proactive.”
Faith Harland-White, associate vice president for continuing education and workforce development and learning operations at AACC, echoed the importance of the CTG.
“An employer might complain to us about production staff not meeting quality goals,” she said, “but we may find that those individuals have reading level issues. That can happen in a warehouse operation where English may not be the native language, and the supervisor may not fully comprehend the issue.”
As with HCC, AACC’s continuing education efforts span various professions, from architecture to residential real estate, from massage therapists to attorneys. “They’re usually local, but we’ve also reached outside the county for the likes of the Baltimore Orioles and Domino Sugar, as well as the TSA program, which spanned 152 airports across 50 states.
“It’s like the college is the doctor,” Harland-White said, “and the companies are the patients.”
Contract sales revenue in fiscal 2017 were $5,865,911, which helps keep costs affordable for AACC students. “We provide an auxiliary service here, just like the bookstore and the cafeteria do,” she said. “We plow the money we generate right back into the budget.”
Kunsman also noted that AACC often works with the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corp. and Maryland Department of Commerce’s WorkSmart Program, which was developed through a statewide consortium.
“WorkSmart was the formalization of a gentleman’s agreement that facilitates community colleges working inter-county and raises the visibility of training available to employers. I would say 12 of the 16 community colleges have active contract training offerings,” Harland-White said. “Together, the colleges annually work with 1,000 employers across the state.”
Universities are also involved in training, but the degrees of their involvement vary. Kathleen Getz, a dean of the Sellinger School of Business and Management at Loyola University Maryland, stressed that the university’s administration “really believes in liberal arts and tries to build whatever education that is offered on that base.”
Loyola recently established programs in conjunction with industry: One is in data science, for business analytics (or “Big Data”), with the other an update to its entrepreneurship program.
“We’re developing an interdisciplinary program that has a minor and goes on to the graduate level. That skill is desired by a variety of learners, including some in large companies that want to harness creativity,” Getz said, noting clients such as Stanley Black & Decker, PSA Insurance & Financial Services and the U.S. Customs & Border Control.
“We can tie this in to about any major,” she said. “The range of clusters we have is only limited by our imaginations. We’ll see a lot more of interdisciplinary programs here in the coming years.”
Then there’s the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). With 84,000 total enrollment, and almost all courses and programs online, UMUC is the largest online public university in the U.S. It offers 90-plus certificate programs.
“We have a large amount of material to draw from, and every program we create can be tailored,” said Emily Ferguson, assistant vice president of client relationship management, noting that the college works with about 200 businesses and government entities annually, and also has articulation agreements with the community colleges.
Clients include the Office of Personnel Management, which is UMUC’s largest direct customer, which offers programs to the entire federal government (and about 2,000 students in fiscal 2017) for traditional degree programs as well as to tens of thousands of enlisted military personnel, veterans and employees worldwide.
“We’ll set up programs for a government entity that needs certain information technology (IT) or cyberskills for credit, a certificate or just a course to share the knowledge,” said Ferguson, for clients such as Booz Allen Hamilton, among others; but working with private business is easier. If a company has 10 employees, “we typically have them enroll online, but if it’s 15-to-25, we may do it at UMUC (perhaps at its main campus, in Largo) or at the company’s headquarters.
Continuing education is often most needed by businesses that are experiencing high turnover, like a fast food restaurant, and where the employees are interested in education that is easily transferrable within their company or perhaps elsewhere. “That’s how [students] make themselves more marketable,” said Ferguson.
“We evaluate what students have done professionally in the past via portfolio assessment and give them credit for what they already know,” she said, “and if you qualify for the Maryland completion scholarship, you can get reduced tuition.”
Bernie Sadusky, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges (MACC), offered that, “As far as the community colleges go, we’re a little more industry-based. Basically, what we offer is about what the employers need,” he said. “There may be some already established courses, but then there are some oddities, too.”
On that note, Sadusky stressed the importance of the WorkSmart program. “We say that an employer should never leave the state due to not being able to get its workers trained,” he said. “Let’s say that I’m an employer in Salisbury, and Wor-Wic Community College doesn’t offer a needed program. We’ll get someone from another community college in Maryland” to assist. “It’s almost on a school-by-school basis, but also unique to each county and market.”
That’s key, because in the “workforce of the future, middle-class workers won’t need a four-year degree,” Sadusky said. “This market is wide open, but in the end, what workers really need is certification — and that will lead to good-paying jobs.