Mercer Helps Develop Statewide Technical Studies Program; Community Colleges to Offer Associate Degree for Apprentices

4/19/06


Mercer County Community College has helped to develop an initiative with community colleges throughout the state that will offer a new associate in applied science degree in Technical Studies to apprentices in the building and construction trades. The program, called New Jersey Pathways Leading Apprentices to a College Education (NJPLACE), will enable registered apprentices to gain up to 25 college credits based on their training. Statewide, 196 students have already enrolled in the program, with many additional students expected to begin their studies in Fall, 2006.

NJPLACE was endorsed by Governor Jon S. Corzine at a Statehouse press conference in March. According to Mark McCormick, MCCC acting dean for Academic and Student Affairs, Mercer was on board from the program’s inception. “NJPLACE is an example of workforce development at its best – recognizing the value of work experience and helping students build on it.” He adds that community colleges are the ideal setting for the program because they offer open access, convenience and affordability.

McCormick notes that a prospective student’s apprenticeship training will be evaluated based on standardized criteria for workers from participating New Jersey building and construction trade unions including electricians, carpenters, iron workers, heat and frost insulators, plumbers and pipefitters. “Depending on their experience they may be awarded up to 25 credits, almost a full year of credits towards their degree,” he said. Corporate and military training will also be evaluated for college credit.

In addition to taking general education courses in subjects such as English composition, computers, the arts, history and sociology, NJPLACE students will select additional courses to meet their particular career objectives. “If an employee in construction wants to take on a management role as a foreman or as a small business owner, he or she could pursue a degree in construction or business management,” McCormick explained. “If the goal is to further a career in technology, he or she would take higher level computer courses. Whatever their objectives are, we want to help students use the skills they already have to expand their career options.”

With the cooperation of all 19 of New Jersey’s community colleges expected by the end of 2006, it will be possible for workers to take courses at any one of the schools. “Workers could go to school directly from a job site,” McCormick explained. “If they changed job sites, they could continue their studies at the college that is most convenient.” Under the program union workers will be charged the in-county rate from any of the community colleges they attend.

Maureen E. King, statewide NJPLACE director, knows all about the value of community colleges. A “non-traditional” student, she attended Mercer County Community College after having a family, graduating with highest honors in 2000 with an A.A. in Humanities and Social Science. A member of the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society, she continued her education at Rutgers, studying labor relations for her B.A. and masters degrees in the School of Management and Labor Relations.

King recalls walking the paths at Mercer, seeing the banner, “Getting There Starts Here,” and feeling like it was meant for her. (Mercer also worked for her son Eric Nissenbaum ’02, former president of the MCCC Student Government Association, who transferred to Rutgers and graduated with a degree in Labor Relations in 2005.)

King is a strong supporter of the program she helped develop. “NJPLACE allows workers who wouldn’t normally pursue a college degree a realistic way to earn it. It is based on the idea that job-related skills are not an alternative to college, but rather a pathway to a college degree.”

According to King, workers’ reactions to NJPLACE have been consistently positive. “When they realize they can do this, they are very excited.” She is hopeful that with more than 5,000 apprentices in the state, many will take advantage of this unique opportunity. “New Jersey has the only statewide initiative in the country.”

She congratulates the community colleges for their cooperative efforts. “In the space of 15 months we have made great strides in implementing this program. Both MCCC Acting President Tom Wilfrid and Dean McCormick were integral by lending their expertise while we worked out the academic equivalencies for apprenticeship training.”

For details on Mercer’s program, contact the MCCC Business and Technology Division at (609) 586-4800, ext. 3449, or visit Technical Studies on the MCCC website. Additional information is also available at the NJPLACE website.

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