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Community Colleges are Meeting State and Regional Needs

Posted: November 30, 2016

Another View

By Ross Gittell and Susan Huard
Published in the New Hampshire Union Leader
Nov. 30, 2016

AT MANCHESTER COMMUNITY COLLEGE and the statewide community college system, we emphasize the “community” in our names because supporting the people and the organizations in our local communities is at the heart of what we do. The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce recently brought together a group of community leaders to ask, “how are we doing” and “what can we do better?” The feedback will guide us as Manchester Community College (MCC) builds and enhances partnerships with our host community.
About 96 percent of the roughly 3,500 students who attend MCC are New Hampshire residents, and most work part or full time along with their studies. They range from 17 to 69 years old and take advantage of a tuition rate that has decreased by 5 percent since 2011-12, bucking a trend of increasing tuition across the country.
These students come to us with varying needs, enhancing workforce skills, receiving a quality yet affordable pathway to a two- or four-year degree, enjoying the flexibility we offer for working adults and taking advantage of employer relationships with MCC that enable on-the-job training.
There is an urgent need to have a skilled workforce that can meet the projected needs across New Hampshire. The seven community colleges in the system are committed to working with businesses to train and retain employees to develop a robust workforce. We embrace the “65 by 25 Initiative,” which calls for 65 percent of New Hampshire citizens to have some form of post-secondary education by 2025 to meet future workforce demands.
Roundtable participants told us that, in addition to supporting a long-term, sustainable pipeline of well-educated and skilled graduates, MCC needs to continue to be nimble and provide education and training that can have an immediate impact on students getting jobs or moving into new roles with their employers. Much emphasis was put on expanding workbased learning opportunities — encouraging both students and employers to pursue internships and apprenticeship programs, and for more “boot camp” programs that rapidly accelerate skills of current employees so they can fill gaps in companies.
Workforce gaps exist across a number of local occupational areas, including IT, electrical technology, automotive and HVAC. Many employers also have needs for well-developed soft skills,such as customer relations and communications. Employer participants in the roundtable commented that when one can combine the soft skills and technical skills, salaries can surpass six figures in these fields.
The discussion helped to uncover areas where there is an immediate demand. Programs in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and electrical technology have been a priority at MCC for many years, and we have had a 100 percent placement rate for our grads in this area. We were excited to break ground this summer on a new facility to expand training and educational opportunities for students in these fields. The building, with its own advanced electrical and HVAC technology, will serve as a living classroom for students. Many local companies helped oversee construction and program development, and we expect to open the doors next fall.
Another example is a new partnership between MCC and Eversource to address the need for additional electrical lineworkers. The hands-on certification program will include in classroom learning and laboratory courses at local training facilities. Students will complete extensive course work, including electrical theory, basic math, communications, CPR and safety. The program, which starts in January, is expected to be at capacity and have a waiting list.
One concern is that several participants suggested that many in the community do not understand that the community college system offers such a breadth of programming and affordable options that can lead to a good job or to transfer credits toward a bachelor’s degree. We all need to do a better and ongoing job to educate parents, students, guidance counselors and others about this.
From a communications standpoint, this might be our biggest piece of homework — a grassroots effort to let people know that this is not your grandparents’ experience at a community or technical college, and that community colleges are where education pays off.
Today, we have many more real world options for education on technical and soft skills at an affordable price that puts students on a pathway for a degree and a job.
We are proud to be a valued resource in the Greater Manchester community, and look forward to providing additional partnerships with businesses and pathways for students who want to advance in their education and economic prospects.
Ross Gittell is chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire. Susan Huard is president of Manchester Community College.