Colleges help students prepare for careers of the future
By JEAN GUARINO For Sun-Times Media
Today many of the undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificates offered by local colleges and universities were not even in the academic pipeline a few short years ago. So why did faculty members feel the need to create these new and highly specialized programs?
"Our biggest metric was to design programs that are relevant in today's marketplace in growth areas where jobs are expected to be plentiful," said Tim Ricordati, dean of the School for Professional Studies at Elmhurst College. "We're trying to serve the needs of both companies who require workers with very specialized skills and individuals who want to acquire these skills to advance in their chosen field or transition to a new career."
The Occupational Outlook Handbook prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks jobs in all fields and projects those careers that will experience the greatest growth over the next decade. In the 2012-13 edition health care, computer and information technology, and criminal justice are among the fields that are expected to require the greatest number of skilled workers.
Last July Elmhurst College launched the School for Professional Studies to assist working adults to earn both graduate and undergraduate degrees in these fields.
"The program was designed for ‘nontraditional' students, people who have families and other commitments and need a class schedule that fits their lifestyle. These students either want to enhance their skills so they can advance in their chosen field or transition to a new career," Ricordati said.
The school will offer two new graduate certificate programs in applications development and network administration in the spring semester beginning in February 2013. And a new master's in public health administration will be added in the fall.
The Elmhurst College Online Center also will debut in February. Initially virtual classes in two degrees - computer information systems and information technology - and a certificate in graphical information systems will be offered. But by the fall semester all Master of Business Administration degrees will be available online.
Developing a new course or degree is a lengthy and painstaking process. According to Cheryl Antonich, associate vice president for academic affairs at Triton College, one of the most important steps in this process is soliciting advice from an advisory committee of working professionals and business owners who are in a position to project what kind of skills future employees will need if their business is to grow.
"When we began to develop several new degree and certificate programs in law enforcement, we consulted local law enforcement officers who gave us a perspective on job growth and also suggested the equipment we would need to implement these programs," she said.
The result was two new courses recommended for criminal justice students interested in a career in law enforcement: Stress Management in Law Enforcement started in fall 2012 and Principles of Integrity, Safety and Ethics for Duty will be offered in spring 2013.
Illinois law enforcement candidates must pass their Peace Officer Wellness Evaluation Report (POWER) to gain entry into a police academy. However, many fail this test because they are not physically prepared. Stress Management in Law Enforcement is a 15-week course in which half the semester is spent learning about stress management and the other half is focused on physical agility training.
Principles of Integrity, Safety and Ethics for Duty is also a 15-week course in which one half is devoted to ethics and moral obligations and the other half focused on physical agility, specifically martial arts.
At the end of both courses students are tested in accordance with the POWER requirements and upon successfully passing the test, receive a certification card that can be presented as proof that they have met the test standards.
In spring 2013 Triton will introduce two new courses that should appeal to students of all ages. Personal Finance will cover financial planning, buying a home, supporting a family and preparing for retirement. Introduction to Commodity Markets will examine the commodity exchanges, methods of trade and market structure.
In 2009, Illinois mandated that all veterans who have been honorably discharged are eligible to receive one of two grants: the Illinois Veterans Grant or the Illinois National Guard Grant. Both grants pay tuition and fees for either undergraduate or graduate study at all Illinois public colleges and universities up to a maximum of 120 hours.
On having a specific program for veterans, John Bergholz, vice president of institutional advancement at National Louis University said: "As a private university, we thought we should do as much."
The school formed a task force composed of academics and veterans to shape a unique program that would provide wraparound services and other enhancements for veterans.
And in January 2012 the university announced formation of the Education to Employment (E2) Initiative, funded through assistance from the McCormick Foundation.
The aim of the initiative that began in fall 2012 is to increase the percentage of students within this at-risk group and ensure they are career ready at graduation. Courses are available online for active duty soldiers or those serving on bases away from National Louis' Chicago campus. Future plans include peer-to-peer mentoring and a veteran's alumni group.
The initiative is led by Stephen Curda, PhD, special assistant to the president for Veterans Education at National Louis University. Through National Louis military students have a single point of access contact to resources that include federal financial aid, GI benefits and VA assistance, according to Bergholz.
"And we partner with community resources that already exist to help returning veterans who need help dealing with problems related to post-traumatic stress," he said.
National Louis also relies on input from a newly formed Veterans Advisory Council composed of retired military personnel and leaders from the not-for-profit and business community.
Jean Guarino is a local freelance writer.