Magazine article Techniques

Stackable Credentials: Pathways to Prosperity

Magazine article Techniques

Stackable Credentials: Pathways to Prosperity

Article excerpt

Community college students, especially adult learners, are typically trying to balance work, education and family obligations. They have a lot of "life" going on, and they will oftentimes prioritize their time in such a way that education and training take a back seat, hoping to pick them up at some later date which, in many cases, never comes.

In addition to trying to juggle the demands of life, many community college students are also burdened with financial concerns. At Salt Lake Community College (SLCC), finances are cited as the number one reason for students either dropping out of school or not persisting to the next semester. In addition, more than 56 percent of the students who enrolled at SLCC during the fall of 2014 were "first-generation" college students, according to SLCC's May 2015 "Institutional Effectiveness Report" (Aird, 2015). This statistic, among others, lends credence to the fact that it can be very difficult for any new student to persist and complete, regardless of the degree or certificate undertaken.

At SLCC, we've taken the view that educational intervention and guidance are must-haves for our students. As a result, we've developed the robust First-year Experience program. The program supports first-year SLCC students by priming them for success educationally, socially and professionally. Students who constantly "drop in" or "stop out" do so risking their opportunity to complete their education within a workable timeframe, and they ultimately delay their entry into the workforce as a technically prepared professional. We want to counteract that.

Changing Course

Two initiatives and a host of data have had a huge impact on the educational trajectory at SLCC and in Utah overall.

When business leaders get involved in education, things happen. Making things happen was the founding principle of the Prosperity 2020 Initiative that was launched in January 2011. The initiative, the brainchild of education, community and business leaders, "calls for 90 percent of Utah students to achieve math and reading proficiency and for two-thirds of Utahns 20 years of age and older to have a skilled trade certificate or college degree" (Prosperity 2020, 2011) by 2020.

In 2012, one year after the state's Prosperity 2020 was set in motion, the Utah System of Higher Education created the postsecondary partner proposal, Higher Ed 2020.1 The overarching goal of Higher Ed 2020 is to ensure that 66 percent of the available workforce receives some level of postsecondary education and training by the year 2020, but to what degree? Pun intended...

According to 2012 census data found in the Lumina Foundation's 2014 report, "A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education," Utah currently has 41.4 percent of working-age adults (age 25-64) with at least an associate degree, which is slightly above the national average of 39.4 percent. Furthermore, only 41.5 percent of young adults (age 25-34) in Utah hold at least a two-year college degree, which is slightly above the national average of 40.9 percent (Lumina Foundation, 2014).

Given this information, the entire state of Utah would need to move the needle from 41.4 percent of the workforce with a postsecondary credential to 66 percent. A monumental movement was now underway, and the way education was delivered in Utah would never be the same.

A New Path for Education: Certificates

Community and technical colleges are charged with making sure the workforce is supplied with well-trained people. The greater Salt Lake Valley economic makeup is complex and relies upon many levels of professionals to move businesses forward.

For example, in many instances, a start-up bioscience or tech company will need to supply four to six technicians and support staff for each engineer who is working to design the company's primary product or solution. These "techs" will be trained at the local community or technical college. …

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