Sunday, January 24, 2010

Education and Lifelong Learning

I've been involved for a number of years in the field you could call professional and technical education policy. That arena focuses on the middle skill jobs in our economy that make up about half the jobs openings in the labor market and require specific skills from education programs in technical and community colleges. Research indicates that these are the job in most demand and probably make the most difference in regional competitiveness since the job market is local not global. If you don't have trained R.N.s, machinists, chefs, landscape architects, electricians and accountants you are unlikely to import them from elsewhere. We have to provide the education and training in order to find these workers.

The major problem we have is that the education for these jobs general takes one to three years. Post secondary education but not the general qualifications of a bachelors' degree. When a person finishes the program and gets a job, they lack the requisite degree to move into management positions.

Going off the a university to start a four year degree makes little sense. This approach doesn't recognize current experience and education and isn't entirely relevant. Universities generally don't have management or technical programs that connect directly to jobs in the construction trades or culinary arts degrees.

This is what Bachelor of Applied Technology degrees come into the picture. Community colleges can offer higher level programs that connect directly to their career and professional programs and allow them to move up the job ladder.

Unfortunately, the state has limited the number of these degrees largely due to opposition from some universities. While they don't provide the relevant programs they are concerned that community colleges will turn into competitors in other program areas. I think most community college applied technology administrators understand this and would accept rules that limit expansion to only the programs that link to specific career ladder professional and technical programs.

There is a bill in the legislature this year that allows the expansion of Bachelor of Applied Science degrees. HB 2655 and SB 6355 will be up for a vote in committee next Wednesday. This is a step in the right direction that will help lead to a system of career pathways through lifelong learning.

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