Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Learning Made Accessible

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Learning Made Accessible

Article excerpt

New Jersey community colleges partner with businesses to expand training, improve efficiency.

During a speech to community college administrators in October, President Barack Obama recognized two-year colleges as the "unsung heroes" of the American educational system. By providing opportunities to those who otherwise would be unable to enter higher education, community colleges play an important role in reviving the economy and putting Americans back to work, he said. The New Jersey Council of Community Colleges (NJCCC) is using a creative new approach to meet that mission and get ahead of the curve.

Through the College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development, a partnership between the state and the community college system, the NJCCC brings the collective resources of its 19 colleges to the aid of local businesses. While other community colleges may offer continuing education courses, the Consortium provides customized employee training programs to businesses in the state. For example, a computer technician training course can be pared down to teach a specific program and can be conducted at a business' worksite on laptop computers.

"Without the structure of a curriculum, we've streamlined the process. We can construct a training program within two weeks of meeting with a client that meets their specific needs," says NJCCC Chief Operating Officer Bob Rosa.

Established via executive order from Gov. James E. McGreevey in 2003 with funding from the state's unemployment insurance fund, the Consortium began as a one-stop training program for area businesses. "We had been offering work force training for years but with the Consortium we became more nimble at capitalizing on the strength of our 19 colleges and bringing to bear our combined experience to any business, anywhere," says NJCCC President Lawrence A. Nespoli.

The program has since grown to include partnerships with the biotechnology industry and the state's utility companies. In 2007, the Consortium partnered with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBIA) to construct classes to fit the needs of the Association's 22,000 individual businesses. Tuition costs for the 1,400 classes delivered by the Consortium so far amount to $2.4 million - a significant savings for employers and their employees with the state picking up the tuition tab. Seventy percent of the workers enrolled in classes earn $20 or less per hour. For their part, employers must continue to pay employees their wages while involved in the training.

"We approached the NJCCC with the idea of partnering," says Chris Biddle, vice president of communications for NJBIA. "According to our own survey of members, they were not happy with the skills of many entry-level employees. By partnering with the NTCCC we were able to tie our two missions together as well as tap the NJCCCs broad resources to help employers get technical training for their employees."

Almost 90 percent of NJBIA's members are classified as small businesses, meaning they have 30 or fewer employees. Their small sizes prevent many of the businesses from accessing state-funded training programs, either because the businesses are ineligible or the costs are prohibitive. Among other restrictions, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development requires that training classes have a minimum of 10 workers. "Most small businesses have between one and five employees," says Rosa. "They cannot afford to pull everyone off task to participate in training. …

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