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ACC's New Campus: At the Intersection of Education and Business

ACC is bringing businesses in on the conversation surrounding curriculum


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Photo by Nicklucey.com.

Last month, Arapahoe Community College (ACC) opened its new Sturm Collaboration Campus in Castle Rock. A project which was a joint venture between ACC, the Town of Castle Rock, the Castle Rock Economic Development Council, Colorado State University System and the Douglas County School District. A large goal of the new campus is to create more successful pathways for students as they join either the workforce or a 4-degree program.

“Most people would say we generally have a decent economy, but we still have a lot of folks that work two to three lower income jobs without a meaningful pathway,” says Eric Dunker, ACC associate vice president and dean of business, technology and workforce partnerships.

“We have a high amount of unfilled jobs in this country, actually more than even unemployed workers right now, yet we have out-of-control student loan debt, we have a lot of folks who went to college but didn't graduate, and we're just trying to sort of bridge that,” Dunker says. “The reality is most net-new jobs in this new economy are going to require some sort of post secondary training.”

Initially the new Sturm Collaboration campus will offer education in the areas of business and entrepreneurship, health care, cybersecurity and secure software, information technology and programming, general education and workforce training. But, in bridging the gap between education and business, the school is doing much more than these programs — what Dunker calls “Apprenticeship 2.0.”

ACC has formed partnerships with local employers to create more meaningful work-based learning pathways. This includes internships, apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeship, job shadow programs that are embedded in students’ educational pathways. “This can only happen with partnerships with industries,” Dunker says. 

The first of these programs is a Medical Assistant paid apprenticeship program with Centura Health, which is comprised of online and classroom learning as well as on-site and hands-on laboratory components that takes course over six-months (and is typically a two-year education track). And, Centura is helping students with tuition in exchange for eleven months of work as a medical assistant, post-graduation.

Similarly, ACC is planning to launch, this month, another medical assistant apprenticeship with HealthONE.

The third, is a water operations paid apprenticeship program in partnership with Castle Rock Water. As part of it, Castle Rock Waterwill sponsor up to 50% of the students’ tuition. While working for the business, students work toward an associate of science degree that is transferable to a four-year degree, if desired.

And, in January the school has plans to launch a property management apprenticeship program with the Apartment Association of Metro Denver.

Photo by Nicklucey.com.

At the Intersection of Business and Education

Dunker says that these types of pathways are solving a few problems for employers and businesses. “It’s a more transparent approach to industry-aligned, relevant pathways,” he says.

For one, because the college and businesses are aligning on pain points and skillsets required for the employers, students are more prepared to enter the exact workforce pipeline they’re studying for.

“We had industry at the table, at the front-end, developing these pathways,” Dunker says. “What we're doing is we're asking a lot of questions and for validation from our industry partners up front. And essentially they have a seat at the table in the pathway-curriculum-development process.”

And second, for the businesses directly involved with ACC, it is creating loyalty with that company — for example, Centura’s program is likely to increase the hospital’s retention and decrease the amount of training needed once the student enters employment post-graduation.

“It’s all about creating better signals for each other,” Dunker says. By businesses having a more engaged role in the education system, companies are joining the solution for their workforce problems and industry pain points.

This doesn’t just have to happen at the collegiate and university level. Creating more career awareness at a younger age (say K-12) can alert students more realistically to all the careers and jobs out there. “There's learning about work, learning at work and learning through work,” Dunker says, adding that society needs to rethink the ways that we engage students of all ages with the workforce.

One problem is that finding these solutions does require both time and money and isn’t generating immediate revenue. However, this may be starting to change as new grants and private donations have paved the way for ACC to start these conversations and create these pathways.

Minimizing Student Debt

As student loan debt in the U.S. is at an all-time high, Dunker says this could be a solution to helping alleviate some of this debt. With the examples of Centura and Castle Rock Water, where the companies are directly helping with tuition, “it’s almost like you have a sponsor for part of your tuition but you're getting paid for working there,” he says.

“What we're asking people to do is look at that as ROI [return-on-investment] for the company, but then it's going to minimize student loans from students and maximize gainful employment,” Dunker says. “We’re essentially trying to create that culture here.”

The second way these career pathways are helping is that the college is providing career and academic advising on the front-end, so that students are actively engaged in — and possibly working in — their planned career path. This is helping to eliminate all those students who are graduating with excess credits or not graduating at all.

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Ali Longwell

Ali Longwell is the digital editor at ColoradoBiz. She has also written for SDxCentral, a B2B online technology publication, as well as Denver-area lifestyle magazines 5280, Denver Life Magazine, Avid Lifestyle and more. She can be reached at alongwell@cobizmag.com

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