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Two-year colleges offer tech students an alternative

Many students seeking four-year degrees are starting their educations at two-year schools

Enrollment is up at two-year colleges. Students are learning technologies that will prepare them for transfer to four-year programs or provide a bridge to a more secure job.Enrollment is up at many of the 1,300 two-year community and technical colleges throughout the U.S. “Oakland County College (Detroit, MI) is up 8 percent in the winter of 2009,” says communications director George Cartsonis. “And that growth is expected to continue.”

Lower tuition costs and open door policies are making these schools an increasingly attractive alternative for engineering and IT students. As the cost of a university education escalates, students are starting their higher educations here with the intention of transferring to a four-year school to complete their bachelors degrees.

Los Angeles City College: student and community diversity
Los Angeles City College (LACC) boasts one of the most diverse student bodies in the country. About 41 percent of its 16,000 students are Hispanic, 22 percent are Asian and 11 percent are African American.

In fact, LACC has one of the largest state-funded extended opportunity programs and services (EOP&S) organizations in the country. EOP&S provides support services to non-traditional students affected by educational and economic barriers. The goal is to help first-generation and low-income students pursue their studies.

The school is situated on forty acres in East Hollywood, CA. LACC grants AS degrees in engineering, information technology and computer technology. It also offers career training, professional growth, basic skills and personal interest classes. Like other two-year colleges, the school is experiencing growth. Enrollment for 2008-09 was up by 14 percent.

Boston’s Fisher College prepares students for today’s needs
Two-year technical colleges are often just as current as four-year schools in identifying the changing needs of the market and adjusting their programs accordingly.

For example, privately-run Fisher College (Boston, MA) is now offering an AS in computer information and systems (CIS) instead of computer technology. “We’ve added Web-based technologies, networking and operating systems, all of which are found in today’s business environment,” says program director Sam Perez.

He notes that Fisher’s CIS program uses robotics as a learning tool for object-oriented programming. Professors use the Scribbler Robot and Boe-Bot robot kits, teaching aids widely used in many four-year schools.

The school has a senior program that requires students planning to pursue a bachelors degree to do an internship. “Most graduates of the program go into systems analysis, IT support or programming,” says Perez.

Perez is already anticipating the next wave. He predicts an increased demand for tech generalists in the future workplace, which calls for an interdisciplinary marriage of traditional computer science theories with engineering expertise. “Modern technical problems require expertise in both fields,” he observes.

West Los Angeles College prepares students for four-year programs
At West Los Angeles College (WLAC) students can earn an AA in the computer science, network and security management department. Or they can receive a skill certificate in computer science, computer network and security management, business application and database management or Web design and administration.

Anna Chiang chairs the school’s computer science and applications division. She says that about 30 percent of the 150 to 180 students in CS transfer directly to a four-year school.

Those focusing on programming can pursue studies in CS, math or engineering. Students in the areas of computer network and security management, business application, database management and Web design and administration are being prepared to major in management information systems.

“We are one of the only two colleges in the greater Los Angeles area that offers a degree and certificate in computer network and security management,” Chiang says. This program combines Microsoft MCSE, Cisco CCNA and information system security training.

Chiang believes the rapid growth of the Internet and e-commerce has generated a need for a new class of technical specialists who can implement business solutions. With this in mind, she says, “Students should not only equip themselves with a college degree, they should also get multi-disciplinary skills and become industry certified before entering the job market.”

This new breed of IT specialists includes webmasters, Web application programmers, database administrators, information system security officers and computer network and data communication specialists.

A student’s story
Sophie Fournier earned tech certifications at WLAC, “the starting point of a great career.”The best measure of a school’s success is the testimony of its students. Sophie Fournier attended WLAC after completing her bachelors degree at a four-year college in her native Switzerland. “WLAC was the starting point of a great career,” she says.

At WLAC Fournier earned Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification. “The teachers helped me realize that IT is a very interesting field and I developed a passion for it,” she says.

Fournier is now a systems engineer in her homeland. “I’ve been in this position for about two years,” she says.

Detroit’s Oakland Community College helps the unemployed
“Oakland Community College (OCC, Detroit, MI) has become a resource for many who’ve lost their jobs in a region severely hit by the economic downturn,” says CIS chair Ken Sigler. They’re banking on education as a bridge to a more secure job. Nearly a quarter of the school’s students are members of minority groups.

Sigler says that the challenge is to identify the degrees that will help Detroit area residents develop the skills they need to start over. “Many are hoping to find work in IT or engineering,” he notes.

To that end the school offers a free “JobWatchers” program inviting downsized individuals to increase their computer skills whether or not they enroll in a degree program.

OCC runs an outreach program for girls interested in construction-related careers.Sigler notes that the school has articulation agreements with three four-year Michigan schools: University of Detroit in Mercy, Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti and Walsh College in Troy all accept graduates of OCC’s info security program with full credit for their OCC courses. All three are certified centers of excellence in information security.

“These grads have a good chance of getting jobs in the federal government,” Sigler says. Each year, about fifty of the 500 students who take courses in OCC’s CIS program graduate with degrees in IT for homeland security.

Tribal schools incorporate Native culture
Tribal colleges offer an educational alternative aimed at Native American students. There are twenty-eight tribally chartered colleges in the U.S. today, several with technical programs in engineering and IT. These schools are unique because they incorporate tribal culture and a focus on the communities in which they operate. Most are located on or near tribal lands.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (www.doi.gov/bia) reports that “returning” students make up the majority of its student body. Most students come to the school several years after graduating from high school. The average age is thirty-one and a half.

The first tribally-controlled college established in the U.S. is Diné College (Tsaile, AZ). It serves residents of the 26,000 square-mile Navajo Nation, which is spread over Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The school has two main campuses and six community centers serving approximately 2,000 students.

Many graduates of its math, science and technology program go on to earn bachelors degrees in engineering and IT. The school offers a pre-engineering transfer program that prepares students for the move to four-year institutions.

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