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Cashing in on CHIPS at community colleges

Last month at the American Association of Community Colleges’ Advanced Technological Education Principal Investigators’ Conference, the plenary speaker put out what should be described as an urgent call to community colleges. The recently adopted CHIPS and Science Act will plow $1.4B into community colleges to fund cybersecurity education.

The primary goal of the CHIPS and Science Act is to bootstrap domestic semiconductor development and production. It also aims to increase diversity in STEM fields.

To land semiconductor facilities, communities need a well-trained workforce. We could bring these facilities to Washtenaw County, but we do not currently have the right educational support to make that happen. Yes, we have the University of Michigan, and yes, UM is up to its eyeballs in STEM. But that’s not the complete workforce package the semiconductor industry is looking for.

It needs skilled workers with two-year degrees in cybersecurity, manufacturing, and other related fields. While WCC has a cybersecurity program, it lacks the rest of the educational programming needed to make Washtenaw County a candidate for semiconductor manufacturers looking to locate in Michigan. For example, while other community colleges are building clean rooms in support of their semiconductor programs, WCC is trying to build a hotel in support of – nothing related to education.

The CHIPS and Science Act is an opportunity to reframe the Southeastern Michigan economy. But that relies on community colleges like WCC keeping up with the times. A similar opportunity exists to create high paying jobs in a growth industry. Instead, WCC’s latest programs include:

  • Entrepreneurship Essentials Certificate
  • Introduction to Elementary Education Certificate
  • Robotics Technician Certificate
  • Automation Specialist Advanced Certificate

Each of these certificate programs are made from courses that already exist. They won’t attract new employers to the area, and they won’t build the capacity of the area in preparation for new industries.

WCC desperately needs innovation and authentic leadership

The only way to attract a steady stream of students is to create academic programs that lead to real economic opportunities for them. Instead, WCC has hyper focused on non-degree certificate programs. While this enables a student to finish a credential faster, it doesn’t enable him or her to earn significantly more money than a high school graduate will. Without a noticeable economic advantage, it’s very hard to sell certificate programs to either students or employers.

The residents of Washtenaw County have been without authentic educational leadership at WCC for more than a decade. That has cost the school in terms of enrollment and visibility, and it has cost the taxpayers more than a half-billion dollars, with little to show for it. WCC could be an economic engine for Washtenaw County. Instead, most of its occupational and technical degree programs have been gutted. It will take a lot of time and a lot of money to rebuild them. It will take even longer to entice students to come back to WCC.

Side note: WCC is closed tomorrow, Tuesday November 8 for “infrastructure repairs.” Again.

Photo Credit: Windell Oskay , via Flickr