By Beth Bily
Aloof. Ivory Tower. Detached. Eggheads.
Those terms have historically been used to describe the world of higher education and the instructors who teach/research within those systems. But, in a world where the United States is competing on a world stage and regional businesses need workers with real world skills, the higher education model is changing.
Talk to nearly any higher education administrator in this region and they’ll tell you that these institutions can no longer afford to be inefficient or out of touch.
The transition is taking place along several fronts, with higher education institutions gearing programming to regional need. And, they’re doing it by developing alliances and partnerships – thereby pooling the limited resources available.
The model has been embraced by the Northeast Higher Education District, which includes Itasca, Hibbing, Mesabi, Rainy River and Vermilion community colleges.
NHED President Sue Collins views the new higher education model as one where business and educators work hand-in-hand.
“We’re always out there talking to business and industry – finding out what they need from our programs,” she said. “Everything is driven by our businesses and industries. In order to stay competitive, we have to stay on top of their needs.”
The five community colleges offer programming that includes both industrial/technical training as well as professional degree options – like nursing.
One example of NHED programming developed to meet industry needs is the recently announced Iron Range Nursing program, an RN baccalaureate completion program on the Hibbing Community College campus. The program is a partnership between HCC and Mankato State University and will be launched spring semester of 2014. The partnership venture also will offer a family practitioner master’s degree and a doctor of nursing practice degree next fall.
Bringing advanced nursing degree programming to the HCC campus was an outgrowth of a healthcare summit followed by conversations between NHED and Fairview Range officials, said Collins.
“Deb Boardman (CEO of Fairview Range) approached us about the need for mid-level healthcare providers,” said Collins.
The demand for nurses educated beyond the associate degree level also is fueled by an Institute of Medicine mandate that 80 percent of the nursing workforce have a baccalaureate degree by the year 2020.
“We are honored and excited to be a key partner in the development of educational programs for advanced nursing degrees, offered locally right here in our own region,” said Boardman in a news release. “This is so vital to assuring the ongoing access to high quality healthcare services in our area, and we are proud to be in on the ground floor and play such an integral role in helping shape the future caregivers for our area.”
Offering college-level programming for the region’s workforce is only part of the picture in this new model, however. Late last year, the Northeast Higher Education District launched Advanced Minnesota, a program that provides customized training and continuing education. Although a number of community colleges in the region already offered customized training and continuing education courses, the program is unique in that it partners programming and personnel among the five campuses.
“The beauty of Advanced Minnesota is it really allows us to focus on sales,” said Collins.
Trent Janezich, interim executive director of Advanced Minnesota, said the program got off to a great start in its first full year. The program has served 15,989 persons and provided 220,000-plus hours of training.
Customized training is the vast majority of what Advanced Minnesota does. Janezich said they’ve tailored training programs for fire departments and law enforcement as well as OSHA (safety) training and “up-skilling” for companies throughout the region and in some cases even throughout the state.
Occasionally, there’s grant funding available to offset training costs. Often, however, companies or organizations pay for the costs of training – and are happy to do so when it gives their workers needed skills or certification, said Janezich.
Although the program has enjoyed an extremely successful year, NHED officials aren’t resting on their laurels. Janezich said officials plan to grow Advanced Minnesota by three percent a year.
Growth for programming will likely be aided by the demands placed on business and industry. For example, one federal mandate requires that all companies have crane operators certified to National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) standards by the year 2017.
Collins stressed that finding out what business and industry need is the key to developing successful programming – whether it’s customized training or developing certification or degree programs on the community college campuses.
Partnerships like those forged to launch Iron Range Nursing are important to this changing education model. Officials note, however, that so are the synergies of offering both secondary education and training for those already in the job market.
With Advanced Minnesota, “we can take elements of programs, such as the industrial maintenance program, and offer them as customized training,” Collins said.