College Programs Prepare Westchester Students for In-Demand Fields

The expansion of TAP in New York has increased opportunities for students with a variety of career interests and paths.

This past February, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the launch of the first-ever Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) eligibility to cover hundreds of SUNY and CUNY non-degree programs that lead to jobs in high-demand, growing fields. And, in a nod to the growing number of students seeking something other than a four-year degree, Hochul also signed legislation expanding TAP to cover short-term, non-degree programs, including microcredentials, that supports students at community colleges and colleges of technology.

“Tuition assistance for workforce development opportunities will help ease a path to rewarding and successful careers for low- and middle-income families,” Hochul said in a news release.

Westchester County students have several opportunities to learn the skills and earn the credentials needed for these high-paying positions. SUNY Westchester Community College (WCC), for instance, is one of only a few community colleges in the country to be designated under a new Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cyber Defense Education requirement by the US Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency. Institutions with this designation have met rigorous federal requirements given to schools that commit to reducing vulnerability in national information infrastructure by improving higher education and research in cyber defense and producing professionals with cyber defense expertise.

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John Watkins, director, Robert R. Wiener Center for Excellence in Cybersecurity at SUNY WCC (right) with students and administrators at the Center.
John Watkins, director, Robert R. Wiener Center for Excellence in Cybersecurity at SUNY WCC (right) with students and administrators at the Center. ©SUNY WCC.

An ‘Extensive’ Need for Workers

As a result of this designation, a $1 million grant has established the Robert R. Wiener Center for Excellence in Cybersecurity, a state-of-the-art cybersecurity lab and classrooms. The grant also covers the cost of faculty development, curriculum development, scholarships, and adding new degree programs and industry credentials.

WCC’s cybersecurity programs cover computer information system basics as well as the latest practices for managing and identifying cyber-attacks on workstations, servers, and networks. Students learn to understand the many types of security breaches and how to secure computer systems to pursue a career in this rapidly growing field.

John C. Watkins, CAE director and adjunct coordinator of the Center, says the programs encompass five areas in the IT field: desktop support, networking, programming, web tech, and security. “My primary focus is to prepare students for the workforce,” he says. “When I meet with students, I help them create a career plan so they can set themselves up for IT positions eventually.”

He says the need for workers in this field is extensive: “There are over 40,000 open positions in the federal government.” The private sector is also short-staffed. “There are not enough people to hire,” he says. “Cybersecurity is an essential component in every single company.”

‘Feeding Off the Needs of the Labor Market’

At Mercy University, its CERTIFi program focuses on shorter-term certificates and non-credit courses for those seeking preparation in very specific workforce needs, such as cybersecurity, healthcare, software coding, executive leadership, and conflict resolution. Classes are both in person at Mercy campuses and online for maximum flexibility to meet students’ lifestyle needs. Some can be completed in as few as eight weeks.

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About three years ago, “we recognized a gap. We don’t create enough opportunities for folks to directly get skills or to upskill for lateral transitions,” says Brian Amkraut, vice president and general manager for Workforce Credentialing and Community Impact at Mercy. “We believe an integration between this model and what you call a more traditional approach to education is what we need to do a more effective job as higher education providers.”

“When I meet with students, I help them create a career plan so they can set themselves up for IT positions eventually.”

—John C. Watkins, Director, Robert R. Wiener Center for Excellence in Cybersecurity, SUNY Westchester Community College

He believes that educators “need to be feeding off the needs of the labor market. In southern Westchester and New York City, that means healthcare and technology. There are clear job openings, and the messaging from employers is that higher ed is not enough to get them the people they need.” He cites Mercy’s “reputation as a respected provider of nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, and we added on to that an entry-level spectrum as clinical nurse assistants, medical assistants — the office side of the healthcare space.”

This past February, Mercy announced a partnership with Vector Dimensions (Vector D) to offer a new business program that provides funeral service professionals with the necessary skills to effectively manage a funeral home or establish their own business. This first-of-its-kind program can get students who already have an associate degree in Mortuary Science a bachelor’s degree in Business Management in 12 to 18 months. Another new program, in medical device sales, will launch soon.

“The key to our success is collaborations and partnerships with other stakeholders in both the public and private sector,” Amkraut says. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for folks in the post-secondary environment and in the labor market. Mercy is a major force in talent development and working collaboratively.”

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is introduced at the Center by Director John Watkins.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is introduced at the Center by Director John Watkins. ©SUNY WCC.

Focus on Clean Energy

Pace University has been involved in clean energy and climate change for more than three decades. Along with its four-year degrees, Pace offers certificate programs that can lead to jobs in that fast-growing sector.

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Four certificate programs — blueprint reading, construction project management, cost estimating in building construction, and construction contract law and practices — are aimed at students of all ages who aren’t matriculated as full-time students. These students can work with Pace’s Career Services and Employer Relations department to find paid internships and jobs with the Pace Energy and Climate Change Center’s numerous partner companies, including Con Ed, Orange and Rockland Utilities, the New York Power Authority and private firms associated with the industry. They can of course also continue to advanced degrees if they choose, including at Pace Law School, which hosts a climate-change jobs summit in the spring.

“There is a lot of opportunity in clean energy, amazing careers that pay so well,” says Phyllis Mooney, assistant vice president of Career Services and Employer Relations. Pace listed more than 130,000 total jobs and internships last year, and green tech “made a good dent in that,” she says. Average starting salary is about $85,000, with many over $100,000, and hourly rates reach $55 — more with experience, she says. “There are more and more opportunities each year.”

Related: Check out These In-demand Healthcare Jobs in Westchester County

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