Community colleges address job market for regional workforce

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Four community colleges have entered into a partnership to offer discounted tuition rates in fields of study related to burgeoning industries in the region.

Butler County Community College, Community College of Allegheny County, Community College of Beaver County and Westmoreland County Community College have announced a reciprocity agreement for programs related to industries such as metrology, oil, gas and casino management.

The collaboration will offer students access to specialized training programs at an agreed upon tuition rate that's lower than the standard out-of-county tuition.

"It's a way for us to work together to help put students in these high priority occupations right here in Pennsylvania," said Susan Changnon, spokesman for BCCC.

Students will pay $150 per credit or a flat-rate tuition amount of $2,250 for 12 credits related to the specialized programs. The rate is lower than the usual tuition for out-of-county students. For example, at BCCC, the per-credit cost for non-Butler County residents will be $217 for the 2013-14 school year.

Ms. Changnon said the agreement acknowledges the expertise in fields of study that are specific to the institutions involved.

At BCCC, those programs are metrology and nanofabrication. At CCAC, the programs are technical theater and welding for the oil and gas industry. At CCBC, the study areas are aviation (aerospace management or air traffic control), casino management and process technology. At WCCC, the programs are travel, tourism and lodging, as well as natural gas and oil certification.

"Sharing resources and our stellar faculty, these four western colleges can assist putting qualified graduates into the workforce pipeline in such high demand fields," said BC3 president Nick Neupauer. "This arrangement is truly a collaboration that helps the employers and potential employees in the commonwealth."

Ms. Changnon said the collaboration is aimed at arming the region with a qualified workforce in areas deemed as high priority for Pennsylvania. "This is where the jobs are and will continue to be, so we're told," she said, noting that the community colleges traditionally have worked closely with local industry to provide training for students who will then fill local employment gaps.

"We get direct feedback from industries, and the proof of our success is that local industry is hiring our graduates," she said.

The program also enables students to move seamlessly from one college to the other, with financial aid awards moving along with the student. Also, each student enrolled in one of the specialized programs will be assigned a counselor to monitor progress.

The collaboration has been in the works for a year.

A memorandum of understanding, known as the "program reciprocity agreement," has been approved by each college's board of trustees.

In part, it reads: "These four institutions acknowledge that economic development for the region is dependent upon providing a trained workforce that can support the emerging industries while also providing for educational programs to enhance recreational opportunities in the region as well.

"Each of the four community colleges has unique programs of study that would be costly to replicate at their respective institutions, while still having capacity to enroll additional students.

"Therefore, the four Western Pennsylvania colleges are collaborating in this agreement to provide economic advantages for students from their home counties to enroll at an agreed upon tuition rate lower than the standard out-of-county tuition rate that would be assessed for these unique programs.

"The programs for inclusion in the PRA have been identified by each institution to be those programs supporting the economic development of the region."

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Karen Kane: or 724-772-9180.


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