JCCC Board of Trustees candidates on the issues: Preparing students for modern workforce

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of this fall’s local elections primary. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for the candidates running for JCCC Board of Trustees.

Today, we are publishing the candidates’ responses to item three:

One of a community college’s goals is to prepare students for a rapidly evolving job market and to ensure area businesses have access to employees with the skills they need. Do you believe there any gaps between JCCC’s current offerings and the needs of the Johnson County community? If so, what are they and how should the college address them?

Editor’s note: When initially published, this piece had a duplicate of Lori Bell’s response in place of Colleen Cunningham’s response. Cunningham’s response has now been added. We apologize for the error.

Jameia Haines

As Johnson County Community College celebrates its 50 th Anniversary, it’s apparent that workforce training for the next 50 years is a priority. The recently opened Hugh L. Libby Career and Technical Education Center is an example of JCCC’s innovative efforts to prepare students for a rapidly evolving job market and to ensure area businesses have access to employees with the skills they need. I would work to continue the College’s efforts to emphasize career and technical education programs. There are a number of jobs needed in our community within these skilled trade areas such as: automotive, electrical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning technology as well as plumbing. Continuing to create opportunities for students to engage with local businesses and community partners is key to this initiative. I support continued innovative programming and effective policies that ensure the College’s educational offerings are relevant and responsive to the workforce needs of our community.

Nancy Ingram (incumbent)

Among the many opportunities a community college provides its students, are those that prepare them with options to move directly into the local job market.

In the four years I have served as a trustee, I have witnessed the work of our advisory committees, local chambers and workforce development/economic councils to communicate the coordination of attracting business to the area, and meeting their employee needs. Identifying gaps and filling those needs is something we work toward every day.

When we discuss the identified gaps within our local communities we tend to hear discussion about the trades, specifically welding, plumbing automotive and electrical, among others. Using this example, our new Hugh L. Libby Career and Technical Education Center, provides a modern training facility for the trades right on our campus. Our new Fine Arts and Design building is another example of meeting the needs in an area of local growth. With movement to the area of the aviation industry, Johnson County Community College was a forerunner in assessing how we best participate. This is who we are.

Our partnerships and collaboration are widely complimented within the region, and as a result, I believe this to be a strength we have as an institution, and the best way to address any gaps, perceived or otherwise. We can be proud that we are involved in numerous task forces, committee and councils, and that we are seen as a solution to help fill the gaps in the workforce. We respond to the needs of our community in a very thorough, data driven way. We are sought out to work directly with companies to participate in the training of the employees they need. We work hand in hand with businesses throughout the area, to identify the industry needs and guide curriculum, with the shared goal of student success.

Greg Musil (incumbent)

Our College has done a great job of responding to the needs of area businesses – please ask them! Our business advisory committee members, the involvement of the business community in the College’s Foundation and scholarship fundraising, and our intense Continuing Education focus on relevant career improvement and job skills has helped us “keep up” with a dynamic and changing Johnson County business environment. The Board of Trustees’ commitment to a Facilities Master Plan that included a new building for graphic design and the new Career and Technical Education Center (for HVAC, automotive, plumbing, electrical and electronics) are great cutting-edge facilities (built without a tax rate increase thanks to sound financial planning). The College must continually listen to our stakeholders – a large portion of which are the employers who are seeking well-trained, well-rounded, dedicated employees like those the College produces. Being flexible and innovative often means change, in curriculum, in teaching methods, in scheduling classes when employees can attend, as well as other out-of-the-box thinking that can be discomforting to some but is necessary if we are to compete. Our next president needs to be engaged in the business community, listen and prepare for future careers, and then have the courage to implement appropriate programs on campus. The business community was the fist promoter of a community college, the voters agreed and created JCCC 50 years ago. We are not going to rest on our laurels.

Laura Smith-Everett

From the K-12 perspective, education is trending towards a future with multi-disciplinary skills in disruptive innovations. I think as future jobs are less and less predictable, the best thing we can do is support multidisciplinary faculty in innovating our courses and their pedagogy to meet the changing demands. STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) and STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Math) careers are the fastest growing careers in the US Market and the focus of much of the curriculum overhaul happening in K-12. While I think JCCC has done a good job providing vocational programs and university transfer options I think growing our Associate’s Degree STEM offerings is an important component to look at.

As a trustee, it would be important to continually question our assumptions about where markets are going and how we can remain nimble enough to adapt and change course offerings to those market needs. It is imperative that we don’t offer more courses than we can support. It is very difficult to discontinue a program once it has begun and we must always weigh the fiscal prudence of college offerings with program sustainability.

Lori Bell

I believe the current curriculum is in line with today’s job market, however without a more formal community advisory council program we cannot be assured that students are coming out prepared to begin working day one. I would like to see better reporting from the advisory councils to the community college so that curriculum decisions align with current and future job markets. The advisory councils should be made up of businesses of all sizes however as it stands today businesses are chosen on a volunteer basis. There is a benefit to the advisory councils in that they are receiving students directly out of college, yet the benefit should be coming back to JCCC through formal industry reporting.

Colleen Cunningham

I believe that we are entering a period of massive change for students, education systems, and the job market. Some career fields are disappearing as new careers appear in the marketplace, while still
others are rapidly evolving, and community colleges’ training and re-training programs are the first line of defense against these changes. While continuing to consult with the local business community, as we do through 40 different advisory committees, is extremely important, we need to do more. We need to closely monitor national trends and reach out to entrepreneurs and startups both within and outside of our community that are on the leading edge. Glimpsing their visions of the future will help us better prepare for changes, ensuring our next generation of students are prepared to be a next generation workforce.

This is one of the key changes made by the Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) in North Carolina when faced with declining enrollment. Following a change in administration, they conducted an extensive listening tour throughout their community asking questions about why people weren’t taking advantage of the school’s offerings. In the course of this listening tour, they established contacts with a greater variety of businesses, stakeholders, and community organizations which helped them build a new “entrepreneurially nimble” system, rapidly adding new certificate programs and working with other colleges in the area to build degree programs around them.

We’re already seeing a bigger spike in community interest than we have in previous elections. As a Trustee, I’d like to build on this, continue increasing community engagement and try to repeat what BRCC accomplished. It’s easy to give up and say that there is nothing we can do, as attendance rates at other schools are also declining, but our taxes continue paying for the school regardless of attendance levels. As such, we have a responsibility to our community to serve as many students as we can.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item four:

 There has been a push among some in Johnson County to increase access to community college by reducing the cost to students. Are you in favor of significantly reducing tuition or making JCCC tuition free? If so how would the budget gap from reduced tuition revenue be made up?