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Subject:

USA Today

From:

Norman Stahl <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 11 Apr 2012 09:41:32 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (56 lines)

Community college programs help fill skills gap in U.S.

By Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY



.
LAUREL, Md. – Grant Hardester's monotone belies the mayhem taking place on computer screens all around him. In other words, he has mastered one of the most important lessons for aspiring cybersecurity professionals: Remain calm.





By Joe Brier, for USA TODAY
Gerry Brunelle, 25, helps challenge students at a cybersecurity competition March 16 in Laurel, Md.







"We're freaking out over some stuff," he acknowledges — quietly, so as not to disturb his teammates as they defend a network system from hackers, who are breaking through firewalls, changing passcodes and introducing viruses.
Hardester, a student at nearby Howard Community College, is participating in a regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition playing out at a conference center here. His team is one of eight from two-year and four-year colleges across the Mid-Atlantic trying to make it to a national competition this month in Texas. Among those watching are representatives of 21 employers, such as the U.S. Army and federal contracting giant Northrop Grumman, who are looking to fill hundreds, if not thousands, of positions.

STORY: Community colleges downsize programs

The promising job outlook is what lured Hardester, 26, back to school two years ago. Since earning a bachelor's degree in criminology from the University of Maryland in 2008, he applied for "a lot of jobs" with little success, and now works in retail. He said he hopes credentials in the fast-growing field of cybersecurity will open more doors.
Community colleges have long viewed job training as central to their mission, but the role has taken on added significance since the economic recession. Even with nearly 13 million Americans unemployed, some companies can't find qualified candidates. As many as 3.5 million jobs are unfilled right now, many of them in the fields of information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing, according to the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Critics see limits
To help close that skills gap, President Obama this year proposed an $8 billion Community College to Career Fund to create public-private initiatives that get displaced workers back to work. The fund would build on industry partnerships.
In Ohio, for example, an initiative launched in 2010 has placed 160 graduates from six community colleges into entry-level jobs in the booming bioscience industry, where salaries range from about $23,000 to $77,000 for workers who repair medical equipment.
In Maryland, 1,000 displaced workers attending three community colleges are being trained for jobs as part of Gov. Martin O'Malley's campaign to make his state the nation's "epicenter of cybersecurity." So far, 120 participants have found jobs.
Some community college students in Massachusetts argue that a recent proposal by Gov. Deval Patrick to make workforce training a centerpiece of its two-year college system would limit options for low-income students who may want to transfer to a four-year college.
"A lot of people use community colleges as a starting point in an academic career, and the shift to workforce development, in my opinion, would take that choice away," says Cheryl O'Connell, 30, one of about 150 students at Holyoke Community College to walk out of classes one day last month in protest.
'Not an easy process'
As budgets get tighter, community colleges are making trade-offs. Baltimore City Community College last year cut or consolidated 44 programs so it could concentrate on cybertechnology and nursing.
"This is not an easy process," says President Carolane Williams. "In the long run it's going to be beneficial in terms of getting (students) through the pipeline so they can be marketable and employable."
In the field of cybersecurity, colleges can't seem to churn out graduates fast enough. Between 2009 and 2010, enrollments in community college programs soared 146%, to 4,617, according to Maryland-based CyberWatch, a consortium of 47 community colleges and 41 universities with cybersecurity programs. Last year, the first year that the Bureau of Labor Statistics listed a job category for the profession — information security analyst — the unemployment rate was zero.
Yet there's a hitch for community college students. Many sponsors at the competition are looking for bachelor's degrees on applicants' résumés. Of the nearly 700 cybersecurity jobs available at Northrop Grumman, for example, 90% require a four-year degree.
A community college education can be enough for some jobs, says Diane Miller, Northrop Grumman's head of operations for the company's cybersecurity group, but "if you really want to move fast and ahead of your class, it really is about the four-year or the advanced degree."
CyberWatch director Casey O'Brien, a community college professor and director of the regional competition, says many technical jobs could be filled by community college graduates, but the field is so new that some employers require a bachelor's degree out of habit.
To make it easier for employers to find qualified candidates, CyberWatch is part of a national initiative to help employers identify which skills are required for a particular position. In many cases, those skills are technical.
And that's where community colleges "can shine because the focus is on skills acquisition," O'Brien says. "They're an untapped resource."


Norman Stahl
[log in to unmask]


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