Education

Maine Community College trains rural students for remote work

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The Maine Community College System will launch a free training program to prepare more than 700 rural students for remote work in the next three years.

Students living in rural areas of the state will be able to take 6 to 9 months of online courses that are particularly good for remote work, such as IT support, customer service, and medical transcription. Participants will receive training and obtain certificates of remote working skills. The program will also provide supervisors with certificate courses on how to manage remote workers.

The managers plan to start the ME remote work program in January next year, with about 60 rural students. The $1.2 million plan will be funded by a $535,000 seed grant from Ascendium Education Group, a charity organization focused on higher education, and funding from the John T. Gorman Foundation, the community college system and its foundations.

“Over the years, Maine has tried many ways to bring employment opportunities to rural communities,” John Fitzsimmons, chairman of the Maine Community College Foundation, said at a press conference freed“Through technological advancement and the support of employers, we can now connect urban companies with skilled workers who work remotely. This is a win-win situation for both Maine employers and rural workers.”

The initiative is a product of the pandemic and the way it seems to be reshaping the norms of American work culture. Due to COVID-19, employees across the country left the office in droves in the spring of 2020. After more than a year, some employees may never return to the office for several weeks.The percentage of workers who work from home for a long time is expected According to a survey by the market research company Enterprise Technology Research, it will double by 2021.

Dan Belyea, chief workforce development officer of the Maine Community College System, calls this transition a “cultural transition.” He said that during the pandemic, many employees were “invested” in remote work and were not prepared for the unique challenges of working from home partially or completely, but looking forward to the future, students can be taught how to thrive in a remote work environment in an orderly manner.

He said: “We not only want to train people to work within the scope of remote work, but also train students how to be successful and efficient.” “This will require a new set of skills. How do you meet you may not be seen every day People work together? How do you communicate? How do you project management of your work? How do you maintain your motivation?”

Belyea said that the four colleges in the Maine community college system are located in rural areas, and seven of them serve rural students.

The trend of remote work may have particular advantages for rural communities that suffer population loss due to migration. For decades, the population of many rural areas has been declining as college graduates travel to cities in search of high-paying jobs.

Kai A. Schafft, director of the Rural Education and Community Center at Pennsylvania State University, said many of these students actually didn’t want to leave.

“The students with the best grades from rural areas tend to be the young people who have the closest connection to the community,” he said. “I think in many cases, children from rural areas will be happy to stay where they came from, or go to other places and return to those places, but there must also be some kind of economic opportunity.”

Mara Tieken, associate professor of education at Bates College, said that remote work may be a way for alumni to use the credentials they obtained at the university and stay in the rural areas where they grew up.

“One of the challenges facing college in rural areas is that it is more expensive for rural children and rural families, because going to college usually means getting a degree, which is really difficult to use in rural areas,” she said. .

She pointed out that universities often have “city-centric prejudice” and guide students to leave rural areas. For example, many four-year universities have established alumni networks, provided internship opportunities and mainly promoted their work in the city.

“Resolving this problem in a meaningful way requires some thoughtful work across universities, really thinking about how we can center the city in our network? How can we change it?” Tiken said. “By working remotely, it might be easier.”

In the past few years, higher education leaders and legislators have paid special attention to supporting rural students.For example, the University of North Carolina System Set a goal In January 2017, the system’s strategic plan was to enroll 11% more students from rural areas and low-income counties by 2022, and increase the degree acquisition rate of these students by 20%.Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins and new Senator Maggie Hassan Hampshire Democrat Introduction The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan bill last year to create a model project designed to encourage rural students to receive higher education, graduate, and enter the labor market.

A kind New Research Alliance Established in January to study universities in rural areas. Achieving the Dream, a non-profit organization focused on the success of community college students, announced a New initiative, Known as building flexibility in rural communities for future jobs, helping rural universities provide students with job skills and find high-paying jobs for students.

According to data from the US Department of Education, there are more than 260 rural community colleges in the United States, providing education to nearly 670,000 students each year. At the same time, nearly 41 million American adults live at least 25 miles from the nearest college or university, or where community colleges are the only source of widespread public higher education in the region. Urban Research InstituteAccording to a report, rural community colleges differ in local, state, and federal funding, broadband Internet access, and basic student needs and mental health resources. 2021 report From the Association of Community College Trustees.

Tieken pointed out that as the industry shifts to remote work, broadband access in rural areas may become a barrier for students.According to a 2019 survey, only two-thirds of rural American residents report having broadband access at home Pew Research Center Research.

Belyea said that he hopes that students will face these challenges, but the ME Remote Work Program will provide students with laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots for free as needed, and students can keep these devices after the program ends.

“As we did for our students during the pandemic, we will ensure that this does not become an obstacle to them,” he said.

Leaders of other community colleges are also considering new ways to provide remote work opportunities for rural students.

For example, Cloud County Community College in Kansas is now partnering with Rural & Remote to provide a coding certificate program that trains remote workers in rural areas. This 50-hour non-credit course will introduce students to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, command line and other programming languages. This is the first time the college offers coding and web design courses.

“This opportunity is consistent with the college’s mission to nurture students to lead successful lives and enhance the vitality of our communities,” Cloud County Community College Dean Amber Knoettgen said in a press conference. freed.

Maria Dahlquist, head of rural and remote technology in northwestern Kansas, said in a press release that the focus of the partnership is to attract students who want to pursue careers anywhere in rural Kansas. This course is designed for students of all experience levels, “even if you have never written code.”

Charles Terrell, the outgoing principal of the East Community and Technical College of West Virginia, said that agency leaders have been exploring the idea of ​​creating a center on campus for telecommuting workers in the technical field.

In 2018, the college began renting campus space from ISMS Solutions, a technology company based in Washington, DC. In return, the company recruited students working on campus. Terrell believes this could be a broader model, where employers set up outposts on campus to provide jobs for students and graduates in the area. In this way, students can work in a social, non-isolated environment with secure Internet access while working remotely to other companies. At the same time, the college can design training programs that meet the needs of these companies, he said.

He described his vision as “a cross-integration between education and employers,” and a community college “plus almost a technology park.”

“This becomes a recruitment channel for students to be able to work for employers on the spot, such as ISMS, and know that they are doing it at home in the community without having to go to Northern Virginia or Washington DC to find a job or along the ring road,” he Say. For students with poor Internet access in counties near the college, campus Internet access may be better than they are at home. “The college has not only become a source of education, but also a place where they may be employed by other employers.”

Belyea of ​​the Maine Community College System said that he uses the ME remote work program as a model that can be replicated in other universities that serve rural students, aiming to help them succeed in the ever-changing work environment.

“We try to lower every obstacle we can imagine, allowing someone to access the program, get the equipment needed to participate in the training, and the ability to bridge the skill gap they may have and provide them with real wages, their family, “He says.

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