MIDDLEBURY — Change is coming to the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury.
In recent years, enrollment in adult education programs at the technical center has taken a hit, said director Lynn Coale.
He said that a combination of reduced funding for the center’s adult education programs and a lack of funding for students hoping to take courses at the technical center has yielded an overall enrollment decline.
“We’re a fairly small tech center, compared to Rutland or Essex,” said Coale. “I think that we always struggle trying to keep the doors open in continuing education.”
So Coale has set his sights on a redesign that he hopes will bring the career center’s adult education courses in line with 21st century needs, make the offerings more desirable to students and potentially make students eligible for financial aid other than from current non-degree funding sources.
His vision is a series of “institutes” that are grouped together, offering a specific core of training with a certificate at the end. A cohort of students would travel through the program’s required classes together, which would mean that the center didn’t have to offer the classes every semester.
“If it was a college, it would be a degree program, like a major and a minor,” said Coale.
Students would be able to enter as a part of that group, aiming to graduate from the institute, but they would also be able to pick and choose classes to take a la carte.
Coale said the institute structure is not new, as HCC already offers a block of classes to train those who want to become medical office assistants. This structure would build on that. And Coale hopes to eventually offer blocks of classes in the fields of culinary and hospitality, green jobs, business, marketing and finance, health careers, and sustainable agriculture. He said there is also interest in a transportation institute.
“We have a lot of the component parts,” said Coale. “But what if we made our whole program like that?”
This, he believes, would encourage students in the adult education programs to build up a set of specialized skills, rather than take just one class.
And he sees many opportunities to work with other institutions of higher learning in the state to provide some kind of certification to back the Hannaford Career Center institutes, or to provide a springboard for students graduating from an HCC program to continue their education elsewhere. He cited the center’s current dual enrollment agreement with Community College of Vermont (CCV) for their high school courses as an example.
“There are some powerful things that could happen,” Coale said.
As a start, this spring the center will be offering a photovoltaics course that will ideally become part of the green jobs institute.
And while conversations with other institutions have only just begun, CCV Executive Dean Susan Henry said that working with Coale was certainly a potential.
“We have a strong partnership with the Hannaford Career Center and with Lynn,” she said.
Henry said that CCV this year launched its own two-year environmental studies degree program, which has attracted a great deal of interest: There are already more than 70 students enrolled.
This program formed as a result of a survey of businesses in Vermont, which found that many employers were looking for skills geared toward green jobs in new hires.
So there is certainly demand in that area, and Coale hopes that the program can get off the ground in the next couple of years.
“I think this has a foothold in reality,” said Coale. “I’ve given it a lot of thought, and done a ton of research.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected]