Thursday, September 1, 2011

Innovating to Help People Respond to Challenging Times

Few doubt that during one of the most crucial periods in economic history, community colleges are on the front lines of both traditional education—helping students to learn; that is, develop and apply knowledge—and workforce training – connecting them to something to do, as quickly and legitimately as possible.

That’s why we may be witnessing a revolution in American education: For few institutions are as closely aligned with the realities of America’s middle class (the most likely constituents of a community college) or the need to innovate ways to help them through the economic minefield in which they find themselves. Community colleges offer affordable tuition. Their campuses accommodate commuters and meet the needs of online students working from home. They attract a good number of international students. And they’re as diverse as ever.

Completers of the BCCC MI-BEST program for Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) and Geriatric Nursing Assistants (GNAs) proudly hold their certificates as new opportunity awaits them in the world of allied health. Additional programs in fiber optics, construction-weatherization, pharmacy technician, and more (including new CNA-GNA sessions) are coming soon.

Recently I had the chance to witness one of these innovations in action, as student completers of the Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) MI-BEST (Maryland Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) program received their credentials as Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) and Geriatric Nursing Assistants (GNAs), after only 9-11 weeks of training. For some—Adult Basic Education and English-as-a-Second-Language students, particularly—the training was their first exposure to higher education. At least one completed his high school GED while undertaking the training.

In the world of MI-BEST, it doesn’t matter how well you’ve done in school or if you’ve ever attended. It DOES matter where you are going. In as little as two months, most students in the program gain employment in the high-demand field of allied health.

Back in February, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced BCCC was the recipient, along with four other Maryland community colleges, of $20,000 in MI-BEST program funds from the Maryland Workforce Corporation to develop an accelerated approach to the instruction of skills training and workplace preparation. The BCCC grant is being underwritten by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore.

MI-BEST is based on the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges’ I-BEST model of education which challenges the conventional notion that basic skills instruction must be completed by students prior to starting college-level courses.

Maryland is among a handful of states adopting the model, whose goal is to speed up the rate at which Adult Basic Education and English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) students: (1) advance to college-level occupational programs; (2) complete credentials of value in the labor market; and (3) move into high-demand jobs offering good wages and opportunities for career advancement.

More MI-BEST training programs are coming to BCCC, in fiber optics, construction-weatherization, pharmacy technician and other fields. Things are getting exciting.