Western Pennsylvania's colleges branch out to meet needs of burgeoning fields
When industry knocks these days, colleges are quick to answer.
Be it Westmoreland County Community College's partnership with the shale industry, the efforts of Seton Hill and the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg to mint more registered nurses, Clarion University of Pennsylvania's certificate for opioid treatment specialists or California University of Pennsylvania's act to fill gaps for employers seeking more hands on deck for data analytics, local institutions of higher education are moving to fill the employers' needs.
WCCC ShaleNET, a training program underwritten by the federal government and grants from Chevron, has helped meet demands in the tri-state area shale fields for everything from roustabouts to skilled technicians. Scores of students have graduated to jobs in the industry over the past eight years.
It worked in part because of the partnership with industry, said David Pistner, WCCC vice president for continuing education, workforce and community development.
“Everything was driven by industry, vetted by industry and people working in industry,” Pistner said.
Cooperation among various colleges and universities committed to the project means that students who participated in even the most basic programs could move on to certificate, associate's degrees and bachelor's degrees leading to ever more advanced work in the shale and energy industries.
A Chevron spokesman said a new investment at WCCC comes as the energy industry matures and ShaleNet's curriculum adapts to reflect the region's need for a highly skilled workforce. The program was structured to focus on transferable skills across the region's growing energy and advanced manufacturing industries.
A study by researchers at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce said colleges and universities must prioritize such perspectives to meet a widening skills gap across the United States.
The growing cost of college, soaring levels of student debt and a proliferation of courses all point to the need for meaningful change, said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center and lead author of the report, “Career Pathways: Five Ways to Connect College and Careers.”
Absent such change, Carnevale said, higher education is little more than “a $500 billion computer without an operating system.”
Officials at Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities recognized that as they retooled programs last year.
Cal U officials began crafting a bachelor of science in statistics and data science about 18 months ago when they noticed keen interest among students and employers in a data science statistics program.
The new major will debut this year, said statistics professor Melissa Sovak.
Sovak said the use of data analytics in business and industry has accelerated faster than the existing pool of trained professionals can handle. That created a niche for those with a bachelor's degree in an area once reserved for those with graduate degrees.
At Clarion University, the opioid epidemic fueled the creation of a new certificate program designed to boost the number of drug treatment professionals qualified to tackle the growing scourge.
The 12-credit program, offered entirely online, sparked interest among drug treatment experts across the region, where deaths from drug overdoses continue to hit record numbers.
“We have about 100 students currently taking classes in the program. We will award our first certificates in May 2018 — about 50 students,” Clarion spokeswoman Tina Horner said.
Officials at Indiana University of Pennsylvania said a shortage of environmental engineers and opportunities in Pennsylvania and four other states factored into a new major in environmental engineering.
Deanne Snavely, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, said IUP collaborated closely with leaders in the field to develop a program that will meet workforce need.
Likewise, a need for registered nurses to meet a growing shortage as baby boomers retire and the health care industry expands sparked the creation of a nursing major at the University of Pittsburgh's Greensburg campus in the fall.
It also prompted Seton Hill University trustee Daniel J. Wukich to underwrite a lead gift toward the establishment of a nursing major at the Greensburg school last month.
Wukich, founder of Quest Healthcare Development Inc., said there is a growing need for nurses.
“The situation is desperate,” Wukich said.