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Oregon Bill Would Require College Credit in High School

The Oregon Legislature is looking at making college students out of every Oregon high-school student.

A bipartisan group of legislators has introduced a bill that would require college coursework as a condition of graduating from high school. The move would increase the number of students going to college, make their degrees more affordable and encourage students not considering college to continue in higher education, said Sen. Mark Hass, a Beaverton Democrat who is the bill’s chief sponsor.

“It represents a great play on college affordability if someone can come out of Roseburg High School with 40 credits,” Hass said Tuesday at a committee hearing for the measure. “That student saves thousands of dollars for himself and his family on the cost of a bachelor’s degree. Not only that, it helps those students have a much more productive career while they’re in high school.”

Critics say students shouldn’t be forced to take college courses if they’re not interested. Every student should have access to college-level courses if they want them, said Margaret DeLacy, a board member at the Oregon Association for Talented and Gifted, but not all students will want to.

“We believe that students are individuals, and each student’s needs should be addressed as flexibly as possible,” DeLacy told lawmakers.

The effort illustrates an enduring tension in education as the Legislature tries to improve the quality of schools while facing severe funding shortfalls.

The current draft of Senate Bill 222 would require college credit for six of the 24 high-school classes required to earn a diploma, starting with the class of 2020. It also would provide a yet-to-be-determined amount of money to help teachers get the necessary training to teach advanced-level classes.

The bill is likely to change substantially before going before the full Senate, Hass said, and the mandate for college credits could eventually be watered down or removed. But he said he’s committed to creating powerful incentives for high schools to boost the number of students earning college credits.

Last school year, more than 25,000 Oregon high-school students took dual-enrollment classes, which are taught by high-school teachers and result in simultaneous credit toward high-school and college graduation requirements. Others earned college credit through Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs.

Offering college-level courses can be especially tough in small and rural school districts, where teachers often cover several subjects, said Sen. Arnie Roblan, a Coos Bay Democrat and former high-school principal. Dual-credit courses can only be taught by teachers with a master’s degree in the subject they’re teaching. (Read more.)

Via Jonathan J. Cooper, Associated Press in Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

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Community Colleges Rise as Leaders of Technological Education

Although the economy has slowly begun to piece itself back together, several new college graduates and incoming college students still have found themselves at a disadvantage in finding employment while holding liberal arts degrees, and thus, have continued to incorporate graduate school as a stepping-stone to either enter or elevate their career pursuits. Yet, instead of opting for admissions into some of the nation’s most prestigious and respected four-year institutions, many students have chosen community colleges in order to market themselves as competitive and qualified job candidates.

Traditionally attributed with their prevalent role in accommodating minorities and students from lower-income households, community colleges have become esteemed higher education programs within the last five years, servicing students from various backgrounds. With the community-oriented design of the two-year colleges, particularly in their tailored curriculum to accommodate the high demands of STEM careers, such institutions are reinventing themselves as the leaders of technological education.

“A lot of the STEM fields are occupationally defined programs that lead directly to employment. With many of our two-year associate programs, students enter our colleges and immediately begin studying in the field that they plan to work in,” said Chris Mullins, program director for policy analysis with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

The customized studies that students encountered at community colleges has attributed largely to the surge of post-graduate students that the two-year institutions have begun to withhold. According to the National Post Secondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), 8 percent of students entering community college already completed some form of higher education, whether they received a bachelor’s, master’s or sometimes even a doctoral degree. In the study, NSPAS estimated that approximately 849,000 students received associate degrees during the 2009-2010 academic year, which is a 50.4 percent increase from the last 10 years. Among the rising numbers of associate degrees awarded, there was a 105 percent increase in STEM-related fields during the same academic period.

Mullins explained that a large majority of students seeking advanced training in STEM careers have found community colleges advantageous, especially in the networks that they have gained from the school’s direct links to local employers. “By having connections within local industries, it helps to make sure our programs are in line with employer expectations, especially since education is a large part of employment,” Mullins said. (Read more.)

Via Cherise Lesesne, Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

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Shoring up The Gap Between Workers, Available Jobs

When it comes to bridging the gap between available workers and available jobs, one thing is certain: it’s complicated.

“What the problem is depends on who you ask,” said Ray Suarez, a senior correspondent at PBS who moderated a panel on Wednesday that kicked off an afternoon of roundtables that included leaders from community colleges, business and industry, government and other stakeholders.

Suarez noted some parties blame K-12 for not instilling the right academic skills in students, while others point at employers, who have pulled away from providing training for their workers. Another faction cites higher education for not analyzing more closely the specific workforce needs in their communities.

The panelists agreed that it’s a mix of all the above. Jim Ryan, president and CEO of Grainger, said companies used to provide the training to upgrade their workers’ skills. That’s now a dying practice.

However, it’s crucial for businesses to find ways to ensure that their workers are upgrading their skills in order to be competitive, Ryan said. Not filling available positions costs companies in the long run through overtime and other related expenses. Add impending retirements to the mix and the problem magnifies.

“This is a matter of competitive survival,” Ryan said. <Read more.>

Via Matthew Dembicki, Community College Times.

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Automotive Programs Need to Respond to Industry Changes

Community colleges need to retool their automotive programs to adapt to a changing industry that needs fewer workers with more advanced skills, according to an auto industry researcher.

The U.S. auto industry is not only back, but productivity is continuing to increase and both General Motors and Ford are again profitable, said Kristin Dziczek, director of the Labor and Industry Group at the Center for Automotive Research, who spoke at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual Workforce Development Institute.

While the news is promising, it’s not great. Production levels, sales and employment rates have not returned to pre-recession levels. The number of jobs in auto production were down 54 percent at the height of the recession and have only come back 26 percent, Dziczek said.

Coming soon

The jobs that have come back are more technology-driven than before, which means workers will need new skill sets, said Dziczek, who noted that more than 80 percent of vehicles produced by Toyota will be hybrids by 2020. Small trucks will increasingly have turbo-charged motors, and there’s a big push for more fuel-efficient, motor-assist vehicles, she said. Also, manufacturers are using new composite materials that promote both fuel economy and safety. The materials are bonded with adhesives rather than welding.  (Read more.)

Via Ellie Ashford, Community College Times.

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