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New CA Community College Addresses Working Adults

California is taking on the skills gap directly by opening a community college dedicated to addressing the needs of working adults and hiring managers. Calbright College, which opened for course registration today, will use a combination of online classes, mobile apps and in-person apprenticeships to give its adult students the specific skills they need to get higher paying jobs. This is the 115th community college for the state.

Initial classes — all non-credit-bearing — will focus on three areas, each preparing students for relevant certification from industry organizations: medical coding, leading to the AAPC CPC certification; IT support with an A+ credential from CompTIA; and cybersecurity support, with a CompTIA Security+ certification.

Courses are self-paced and competency-based. If the student already has experience in a given topic, he or she can speed up and finish the requirements more quickly. Initial registration will be capped at 400 students.

The college has reached out to employers and labor unions for help in designing the curriculum. Also, it's teaming up with those same organizations to set up paid apprenticeships for people who finish their training. Tuition could be covered by employers and unions.

Calbright is also putting an emphasis on equity. "Equity advisors," as they're called, from various contingents — such as working moms or former prisoners — will convene feedback sessions to work with others like them to understand their needs and goals and collaborate with the college on their behalf.

The school isn't accredited yet. Nor does it have a full faculty in place. According to reporting by the San Francisco Chronicle, the college hasn't posted job openings for the six instructors it intends to hire. However, it has hired three full-time deans, one for each pathway.

"The Californians we seek to reach cannot stop working to get the education they need to get ahead, and many of them juggle multiple jobs to feed their families. As much as we would like to, we cannot will them onto our campuses," said California Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, in a statement. "We need to rethink traditional delivery models and pedagogies and meet this population where and when they are ready to gain skills and credentials."

"Calbright College enters the scene with new models and great ambitions. Kudos to them," noted Russell Poulin, executive director for the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, in an editorial about the project. "Years ago, I worked on the first plans [for] Western Governors University and the Kentucky Virtual Campus. It is difficult to bring a new idea into the conservative universe of higher education. And quite often those new ideas don't work on the first try. So, let's give them some room to develop and grow."

The Chronicle stated that the college has received a one-time $100 million payment from the state, which required an Oct. 1 opening. And it is guaranteed $20 million annual allotments on top of that. Funding has also come from a number of foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Walmart Foundation.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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