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Occupational education champions needed

Community colleges have suffered enough in the last decade, but it seems they now must navigate shrinking staff levels, too. I have written about this before. Coconino Community College in Flagstaff, AZ could not operate its automotive services program because it could not find qualified instructors. Qualified occupational education instructors exist, but they can make far more working in the private sector than they can training students.

CCC eventually offered just two late-start classes by partnering with a local Honda dealership, which provided a single vehicle bay and an instructor. The community college said that although it had tried to recruit new instructors, the cost of living in Flagstaff exceeded what the community college could offer in compensation. (I don’t know. Maybe pay your teachers more?)

A wide range of occupational education instructors are returning to the private sector. Additionally, community colleges are competing with universities who are trying to recruit community college instructors to fill out their STEM faculty.

That will put extra pressure on community colleges to maintain occupational education programs. The cost of these programs is already high, but the issue of compensation will not go away anytime soon. If community colleges cannot (or will not) offer added compensation to occupational education instructors, they will likely see more program closures.

Keeping skilled, experienced instructors in the classrooms will be challenging. It remains to be seen whether community college administrators are up to that challenge. I’m not being hyperbolic. Community college administrators prefer to eliminate these programs rather than find solutions that enable the programs to continue. WCC did this with its Culinary Arts program.

Declaring a program to be “too expensive” or citing “financial losses” is the go-to excuse for eliminating services and programs. Sadly, the Board of Trustees often accepts these excuses without question.

Profit isn’t the point of occupational education

WCC’s childcare program is a classic example. When EVP Linda Blakey stood in front of WCC’s Board and declared that the childcare program had “lost more than a million dollars!”, no one at the Board level bothered to remind her that turning a profit was never the point of offering childcare on campus.

Occupational education programs are expensive. Like childcare services on campus, they will not likely “make money,” whatever that means. These programs receive public funding because they have value to the community, regardless of their cost.

Unless elected Trustees demand that low-effort administrators do more to meet the challenges of funding and staffing occupational education programs, these programs will suffer a similar fate.

Photo Credit: timetrax23 , via Flickr