2013-10-11 / Front Page

Grant will advance IT

By Sean P. Milligan
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Maine’s community colleges were given a $13 million grant as part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program. Of that $13 million, Southern Maine Community College in South Portland is set to receive nearly $3.2 million.

The program, which is largely funded under the Obama administration’s Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, has allotted $2 billion to post-secondary institutions nationwide.

The seven community colleges, which applied for the grant as a consortium, will spend the money on advancing information technology education across the state.

SMCC began a computer science program last year, but will add to the number of courses offered. The school plans to use the grant to make existing classes more in-depth and specialized.

“We want to take the already offered computer science courses and make them state of the art,” said Janet Sorter, vice president of academic affairs at SMCC. “New equipment and new faculty that we’re thinking will be focused in network security.”

However, the advancement in IT at the school will do more than affect the com- puter science program. The communications and media studies and electrical engineering programs, among other programs at the school, will feel the positive impact of technological advancement.

In addition to creating new classes and programs at each institution, Maine community colleges are working on higher learning assessments. These assessments will be given to students entering programs affected by the new IT classes and will give credit for knowledge already obtained, even self-taught.

“Folks come into college with life experience or expertise,” said Helen Pelletier, director of public affairs for the Maine Community College system. “They can demonstrate their skill level in that ability and can get college credit for that. It helps them move through a degree program more quickly.”

Each of the seven community colleges will focus its portion of the grant on industries relevant to their area of the state. For example, Kennebec Valley Community College is emphasizing advancement in mobile technologies, a growing industry in the area. At SMCC, staff and students will be working closely with companies such as L.L. Bean, Unum and Bath Ironworks.

The programs aren’t only intended to increase the num- ber of graduates in Maine with associate’s degrees, however. The plan is to also make the bridge to a four-year degree more obtainable to students.

The University of Southern Maine has begun developing a bachelor’s program in information technology. The school is articulating that program to Central Maine Community College, York County Community College and SMCC to make the process of transferring those credits easier.

The intention of passing the Health Care and Education Act as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is to keep jobs available while also creating more jobs with a well-trained work force to take on those occupations, according to the Obama administration.

That is the ultimate goal for SMCC. Having well-prepared and trained workers in an area makes a community that much more enticing for incoming employers.

“It becomes the chicken and the egg,” Sorter said. “We’re certainly developing to support businesses in the area, but if we have a highly educated workforce in the area, that will attract more businesses.”

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