For decades, most of us believed that a four-year college degree was the minimum requirement to land a good, well-paying job. But no more. As tuitions skyrocket, it is harder to justify the expense and, often, debt required to earn that degree. For those who don’t want to or cannot afford four years of college, there are now many other options to learn the skills needed for a great job and rewarding career.
“We are seeing an explosion in alternative post-secondary options, some coming from colleges and universities, some coming from other nonprofits and others coming from for-profit entities, especially from within the educational-technology ecosystem,” says Brian Amkraut, vice president and general manager for workforce credentialing and community impact at Mercy College. “The range of options is enormous, from on-demand, very-short-term learning opportunities to more extensive programs that demand the equivalent of full-time study.”
The CERTIFi by Mercy College division was created to offer “highly targeted, competency-based programming to more rapidly give people the skills they need in a constantly changing labor market,” he says. “Our offerings truly represent the full spectrum of in-demand skills and industries in the New York area, ranging from entry-level healthcare opportunities to food truck entrepreneurship to executive education on women in leadership to a full range of technology-related certifications in various digital skills areas.”
A new initiative called Digital Skills Equity, available to learners from select ZIP codes within a 15-mile radius of Mercy College’s Dobbs Ferry Campus, gives enrollees free access to professional certificates from companies like Google, Salesforce, IBM, and Facebook.
“The objective is to get individuals from underserved communities to move into higher-wage jobs in six to eight months,” Amkraut says. “The job opportunities for prospective employees with skill-based credentials are growing all the time.” An increasing number of states have removed the bachelor’s degree requirement from many of their job postings, he notes, and “big tech companies like Google and Amazon have publicly stated that they are more focused on specific skill competencies than academic degrees. The overall low unemployment rates mean that companies are willing to adjust their intake requirements to expand the overall talent pool they are reaching into for prospective hires.”
Other employers are focusing on internal mobility to retain and retrain employees. Upskilling employees to help handle current industry changes is more important than ever, and The College of Westchester (CW) launched the CWPro division to offer short, industry-relevant non-degree training.
“In speaking with industry professionals, we saw a need to help support our corporate partners, professional learners, CW graduates, job changers, and employees in entry-level positions,” says CW President and CEO Mary Beth Del Balzo.
“We are seeing an explosion in alternative post-secondary options, some coming from colleges and universities, some coming from other nonprofits and others coming from for-profit entities, especially from within the educational-technology ecosystem.”
—Brian Amkraut, Vice President and General Manager, Workforce Credentialing and Community Impact, Mercy College
Among the fastest-growing career sectors in this region, according to the New York Department of Labor, are human services, health professions, and information technology. CW has related academic programs for these fields, says Director of Career Services JoAnn Sondey, adding, “Don’t count out accounting, digital marketing, and customer service positions in businesses of all kinds. There is great need in those areas also.” Some programs include test prep courses in partnership with expert organizations who provide industry-specific certifications, she says.
Community colleges have long been a good choice for those hoping to avoid the four-year degree trap. SUNY Westchester Community College offers applied, experiential learning opportunities — including clinical experiences and field work — in its career and technical education programs. Internship programs are also available. In healthcare, students can earn accreditation for positions like phlebotomist, certified nursing assistant, registered nurse, radiology technician, respiratory care technician, and others. Information technology courses prepare students for positions in help desk support, coding, and cybersecurity.
Enterprising students can even start earning college credits while in high school to lessen the costs of secondary education. CW, for example, partners with local school districts and was named by New York State as the higher education partner with the Yonkers Public School District (YPSD) in 2018. CW and YPSD developed and deliver the Early College Studies program to give high school students the opportunity to earn college credits while in high school through a Dual Enrollment Program.
Similar partnerships have been developed with public school districts throughout the region, including BOCES programs in Westchester, Rockland, Orange, and Dutchess counties. CW also partners with the White Plains Youth Bureau to run the Saturday Collegiate Academy, and it offers after-school and summer Jump Start courses that also provide high school students with the opportunity to earn college credits.
These institutions also help students succeed while in school and to pursue career opportunities afterward. Mercy College, Amkraut says, is committed “not only to get you to school, but to get you through school. Our non-credit programming takes a similar approach to student support and student success. That commitment includes career-service support in helping students to become job-ready from both the technical skills perspective and the less tangible, higher-order social and communication skills perspective.”
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