Higher Education Collaboration Models: California

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Written by Stephen Wright, CA Community College State Director ICT

IT training and Certification providers have occasionally asked me how they can get their certifications partnered with the CA Community College system. Having worked for Verizon for 23 years – much of the time supporting marketing strategies – I understand the thinking of enterprise or corporate IT training and certification providers. And after the last 11 years working statewide with the CA Community College system, CCCs, I believe I understand how to approach the system to build a constructive relationship.  

The CCCs are a highly desirable target 

The California Community College system is the largest system of higher education in the nation, composed of 73 districts and 116 colleges serving 2.1 million students per year. Of those, over 27,000 students will take at least one IT course per year.  

Even in tight state budget times, the CCCs are prioritized for spending as a valuable state investment for jobs and employment. The COVID crisis may be causing all instruction to go online, but that does not hurt IT related instruction as the CCCs have been providing both IT classroom and labs online for years.

Information technology has long been a strength in the CCCs. With over 300 IT faculty, 70% with master’s degrees, and many are trained by certification providers to teach “academy training,” e.g., Cisco- 60 campuses, AWS-  40 campuses, Google IT – 6 campuses, as well as many other IT certifications.  

Historically the IT faculty developed and agreed to some standardization of core courses with the IT Model Curriculum, ITMC, which has been consistent with the Cisco Academy IT program. The ITMC, with network, Cloud, cybersecurity versions, is a rigorous and effective IT base that can be adjusted for IT industry specialties without changing its “approved” status.

Your customer is the student. Income potential is their goal.   

Many outside the CCC system don’t realize that over 45% of our IT students are working adults.  Some have degrees, most are upskilling for professional advancement. However, for our entry-level students, the mission is survival, i.e. rent, diapers and food. Industry certifications that support in-demand skills in technology provide critical job placement and career advancement value for all students.  

Industry certification exams are not part of CCC courses. Students need to independently pay for industry certification exams at a testing center (now most are offered virtually). Retrieving related industry digital badges or credentials are also a student’s independent responsibility. In short, the CCC’s role is just the education side and the resulting grade in a course. The challenge – to achieve student success and certifications – is student motivation for follow-through. Industry partners that provide online mentor and cohort support, connect students with employers, or otherwise see the student through to the income potential reward will succeed magnificently. The student total cost of ownership for a certificate can add up, so vouchers for discounted exams help considerably.

How to work with the CCCs

When engaging the CCCs, assume an extended engagement building local faculty relationships as the key to success. The “academy” approach with faculty training, faculty certification, classroom curriculum, and resources for students is a traditional successful model. However, there is an opportunity to improve success. IT training and certification providers can accelerate the adoption of their certification training when they share resources and knowledge with faculty and develop employer engagement opportunities for students.  

How do you reach 116 campuses? Hoping one or two wants to get started? Outreach to over 2000 IT faculty and deans is made possible by our weekly ICT Educator Series of webinars and newsletters. Nearly 40 webinars have been held thus far, receiving nearly 4,000 faculty views. Registration information for upcoming webinars and access to previous presentations can be found at https://ictdmsector.org/educator-webinars/.  

We are eager to share industry certification programs with this audience. We prefer a non-pitch practical information session with some academic case studies or faculty users as a more agreeable approach. From this initial information sharing, several campus champions can be identified across the system.

The champion on the campus that will be an advocate for your certification program. The champion may be a recognized faculty leader, a dean, a new adjunct faculty with a passion, or occasionally a college executive (VP, CIO, etc.). From there the engagement begins. Multi-campus growth usually follows successful engagement at a few colleges.

From engagement to becoming a partner

A daunting program implementation challenge is that the 116 colleges in 75 districts are decentralized and very independent by state legislative design. Consequently, educational program decision-making occurs at the local college level.  

Each college bases class schedule offerings upon likely student enrollment, availability of trained teachers, and demonstrated demand by regional employers for the skill (i.e. Labor Market Information, LMI).  

Students at the CCCs pay the least for community college of any system in the nation, but that low tuition only applies to approved courses and curriculum. Faculty at each college, through union agreement, have purview over curriculum content. The time between initiating and gaining approval for new curriculum and offering it on the schedule can take up to two years with a steady follow-up effort. Inserting industry certification resources into existing IT Model Curriculum has allowed for a more rapid adoption of AWS and Google certificate programs at some schools, which can be modeled for others. Additionally, new pilot courses can be temporarily offered until approved. 

I find that faculty genuinely have the interests of the students at heart, and the system as a whole wants to improve speed and flexibility. CCC Chancellors Office leadership and many districts are working hard to find avenues for more rapid adoption of emerging technology curriculum without sacrificing the quality and regional diversity that are part of the CCC design.

I am happy to work with industry certification providers to understand this market and help our students. I represent the ICT Sector Team of 10 regional specialists that all interact with the colleges to support constructive employer engagement and career pathway development opportunities in the sector we call information communications technologies.

About Stephen Wright

State Director
Information Communications Technologies (ICT) and Digital Media
Economic & Workforce Development

California Community Colleges

Find Stephen on LinkedIn.

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There’s something about the word “certified” when it precedes a professional title that conveys the consumers and employers a sense of trust, credibility, knowledge and an official “stamp” of approval. This is not a coincidence. IT certification has long been a proven means of differentiation and qualification among professionals in the industry. Employers often include certification as a prerequisite when seeking qualified candidates to fill positions; consumers often trust only those IT professionals who boast credentials proving they have attained a certain level of knowledge.