Technical Colleges to Expand Science and Technology Focus
Wednesday, September 26th, 2012
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics – these disciplines commonly referred to as STEM spell the future of technical colleges over the next five to 10 years, according to WGTC President D. Ray Perren, DSL. STEM-focused programs along with allied health programs will increasingly be the focus of colleges like WGTC that have a mission of work force development.
“You’ll see technical colleges offering physics and pre-calculus, which are courses we’ve never offered in the past. We want to provide a work force with more opportunities that come with STEM skills,” Perren said.
According to Perren, most people equate success with a four-year college degree when a large percentage of jobs do not require a four-year degree. Two- year technical colleges provide a viable option for many people. Additionally, an associate degree from WGTC can lead to four-year degree.
“We have a tremendous working partnership with Valdosta State University. One of the benefits of that is graduates with an integrated associates degree can either go into the work force directly or continue at VSU if they want a higher degree,” Perren said.
“I think today’s high school graduates are the brightest generation ever. The challenge is to channel graduates to areas where jobs will be in the future. Since few people know where they want to be in five years, having options is an important benefit for students.”
Expanding Health Care and Engineering Program Areas
Currently WGTC offers more than 100 programs of study, including credit and noncredit courses and distance learning options. Each program area has an industry advisory council made up of area business leaders with an interest in the program’s work force skills. The councils meet twice yearly to provide feedback on WGTC graduates’ performance on the job, review the curricula and give insights into work force skills that will be in demand in the future.
“Based on what we hear from industry, I believe a transformation is coming based on technology. We’re seeing more demand for technical skills in health care and in engineering fields,” Perren said.
WGTC is developing several new programs to meet work force needs. It is developing a curricula proposal for an associate degree in nursing, which if accepted, would begin teaching in January 2014.
“The program would prepare graduates to sit for the registered nursing (RN) licensing exam. It’s a tremendous need in the community. Right now there are 50 RN openings at medical centers in Valdosta,” Perren said.
“We’ve also been meeting with medical providers over the past 18 months to develop a respiratory technology program, which would begin in August 2013.”
Development work is also under way on a wireless engineering technology program, which also would begin in August 2013. The program would provide a new set of skills to support 4G wireless network technologies.
“We will be the only college in the Southeast with a program in wireless engineering technology. Graduates could work with mobile telecom providers across the region,” Perren said.
Following a 48 percent increase in enrollment from 2009 to 2010, enrollment at WGTC dropped in the last year. Perren attributes the drop to changes in the Hope grant program that reduced the money available to grant recipients as well as the change from a quarter system to semesters mandated by the Technical College System of Georgia.
“The outlook for 2013 enrollment is slightly less than this year. Over the next few years, we expect a slight increase,” Perren said.
WGTC is a public two-year technical college, a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia and accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award associate degrees, diplomas and technical certificates of credit. Its mission is to promote community, educational and economic development by providing a highly trained workforce for South Central Georgia. More information on WGTC is available at www.wiregrass.edu.