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County colleges, vocational schools pledge to expand consortiums (ROI-NJ: Career Classroom)

November 2, 2020

Jennifer Cruz Answers PhoneJared Redmond graduated from the Gloucester County Institute of Technology engineering program in June, but he spent his senior year on the campus of Rowan College of South Jersey.

By the time he finished high school, he had 58 college credits. He just started his freshman year at the community college and he will graduate after just one semester with his associate degree in process technology.

He had landed a paid internship this summer at the PBF Energy refinery in Paulsboro, but the coronavirus forced the cancellation of those plans. Nevertheless, he hopes to land a job there after graduation as a process engineer making $35 an hour.

Redmond’s path from technical high school to paid internship to community college to a job and possibly back to a four-year college is very deliberate.

It’s called a work-and-learn consortium and it was developed over the last two years by Rowan College of South Jersey. The community college serves as a central hub, connecting GCIT, Cumberland County Technical Education Center and Rowan University, as well as business and industry, chambers of commerce and government agencies, such as workforce development boards.

Right now, it’s only available at Rowan, but Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation in January to encourage the expansion of these partnerships around the state. Recently, community college presidents and superintendents of county vocational-technical high schools pledged to work together to do just that.

The pledge among community colleges and county vocational-technical schools to create additional work-and-learn consortiums comes at a critical time amid rapid social, economic and technological change — magnified by the upheaval of the pandemic.

“Now, more than ever, having affordable education pathways that respond to the needs of students and employers is vital to ensuring New Jersey’s economic recovery,” said Aaron Fichtner, the president of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges.

The pledge is one of four recommendations that the New Jersey Council of County Colleges and the New Jersey Council of Vocational-Technical Schools highlighted during an Aug. 18 virtual convening.

They also plan to work together to identify fair and viable dual-credit models that enable more students to begin earning college credits during high school, seek partnerships for shared facilities and services, and establish a subcommittee of community college presidents and vocational school superintendents to provide leadership to their respective organizations regarding collaboration.

Expanding partnerships with employers and the workforce development system is critical for New Jersey’s economy. The goal of regional work-and-learn consortiums is to provide students with pathways to careers in high-demand fields starting in high school, through community college and culminating in a bachelor’s degree and employment.

The program is designed to allow students to integrate work experience with education by providing multiple on- and off-ramps for students along their education pathway.

Along the way, students can begin earning college credits and industry certifications while in high school, and have opportunities for internships and paid employment as they progress toward a degree.

“This work-and-learn consortium will make a real difference for students and employers in New Jersey,” said Frederick Keating, the president of Rowan College of South Jersey, told the group of presidents and superintendents during the virtual get-together. “We need to bring it to life and make it breathe.”

Keating said that, while creating a work-and-learn consortium involves bringing together several different entities, it’s really not as complicated as it may first seem.

“It’s really just gluing different parts together,” he said. “Of course, the devil is in the details.”

One of the key components of the work-and-learn consortium in Gloucester and Cumberland counties is the involvement of local businesses.

“It was very important for us to ask businesses first about what they were looking for in an employee,” said Dina Rossi, the superintendent of Cumberland County Technical Education Center. “We asked them if we are giving you the employees that you need in order to sustain your businesses and also sustain our communities?”

In Gloucester, the consortium has partnered with PBF Energy, South Jersey Federal Credit Union, Owens and Minor, Rowan Medicine, Wedgewood Pharmacy, Marriott Glassboro and Greyhawk.

Michael Dicken, the superintendent of GCIT, said that, when he first arrived at the school 10 years ago, only half the students were eligible to take college credits.

“This program enables all of our students, including those in more traditional vocational programs such as construction and automotive, to get a head start on postsecondary education,” Dicken said. “We’ve really worked hard to make our students more marketable and give them as many equitable opportunities as possible regardless of what career fields they choose.”

Though Redmond took a challenging course load in high school that would have allowed him entry into a four-year college, he decided against going right now. He said he feels fortunate to be part of the work and learn consortium.

“I’m only 18 and about to graduate college,” said Redmond, who is also a volunteer firefighter for Logan Township and is working this semester on getting his Basic Life Support certification. “This gives me a good head start into the workforce.”

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