Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wow, What a Summer

All I can say is 'Wow, what a summer!' The weather has hardly been summer-like, but that aside, it has been a long hot season for education. Funding issues and concerns top the list. Whether funding is provided by state, federal or private grants, the economic drought extended to education in a big way. We needed to cancel our summer scheduled classes, and were faced with up to a 50% cut in classes for the fall. Fortunately the fall funding cuts were less dire than the original predictions, but still, at a time when the demand for ESL and GED classes is at the highest we've seen in years, we have had to cut back on offerings, making for many disappointed students.
I run two programs, one a college-based Adult Education Learning Center (AELC) and the second a Digital Divide CTC named the Aurora Community Technology Center (ACTC). Both programs are grant funded and technology-based.
The AELC works with students to enhance the skills they learn in the ESL and GED classroom. We cross-correlate the classroom skills with academic software and websites. Students come into the AELC with nothing more than their class levels, and we place them on the appropriate applications. In addition, instructors also work one-on-one with the students. Classes begin again this coming Monday, but I have been receiving calls non-stop from students for weeks. High demand, with limited ability to provide the services at levels to meet that demand.

The ACTC is housed off-campus, and provides community residents with technology training, from Basic Computers through MS Office and Quick Books. Courses also include topics such as Job Preparation, Resume Writing, and Using Social Networking sites in Business. A few additional courses are also interspersed, such as Web Page Development, Publishing and Digital Photography. These courses started July 20, and have been very popular. Another aspect of the ACTC is a drop-in site for the Microsoft Elevate America vouchers. In two weeks I've dispersed over 100 vouchers, and answer calls daily for additional vouchers.
The limits of the economic condition have made continued education no longer a luxury but a necessity. I've talked with dozens of people who have been trying to get a new job for nearly a year, without success. Qualified, talented people are being cut out of the workforce. The MS vouchers for Business Workers (Office products and certification), and IT Professionals are being snapped up by those who will try any means to keep their resumes current. Community colleges have seen a surge in enrollment, due to both the affordable cost and the need to update skills. Our 13.2% increase last fall has almost doubled this fall. Financial Aid has also doubled their requests. Technology programs are filling fast, as people search for any means to make them more employable. And of course, our funding has either been cut or remained stagnant from last year, giving us little flexibility to provide more offerings. We all need to work together to provide the kind of services that meet the needs of this changing world. And for those of us in positions that offer these services, the long hours of summer will likely continue well into fall.