Archive for December, 2007

Higher Ed Budget Lower Than Expected

December 30th, 2007 | Category: Legislation

According to Inside Higher Education, the final appropriations for higher education were not as lucrative for the institutions and students as originally hoped (see earlier post). As an educator I can be disappointed. As a fiscal conservative, I can be glad that the country isn’t trying to increase funding for everything at once. Of course, as a matter of priorities, one can’t help but believe there is spending on pork projects that could have funded higher ed instead. Such is politics.

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Celebrity Endorsements for CTE

December 28th, 2007 | Category: Technical Education Awareness

Ed Chipalowsky posts on his ACTE blog about finding celebrities that “get it” to deliver the message about the importance of Career and Technical Education. I’m with him on this one. It is going to take someone with serious influence to “untarnish” CTE in the eyes of the press, politicians, and world at large. It is a worthy cause waiting for the right spokesperson. Although he mentions Jay Leno as his first choice, Ed talks about a few others as well.

Who do you think has high enough celebrity status to mount the bully pulpit for technical education?

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Cheap Solar

December 23rd, 2007 | Category: Geek Stuff, Research, Technology

The fuel cell program at TSTC is being expanded to include other alternative energy approaches, including wind (in partnership with TSTC West Texas where there is a forest of wind turbines) and solar. Here is an interesting article with video about cheap printed solar cells.

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Merry Christmas!

December 20th, 2007 | Category: General

Disco holiday - with lots of fun and and pop culture references:

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It is also the work of a talented digital artist.

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The Joy of Technical Education

December 19th, 2007 | Category: Joy, Skills in Demand, Technical Education Awareness

I recently attended a special presentation at one of our educational partners. Rapoport Academy Public School, a charter school in Waco with which we have an Early College High School agreement, received $100,000 total from two generous couples (the story is here). After the check presentation I struck up a conversation with a Rapoport Academy board member. He owns a construction business and since he knew I worked for Texas State Technical College, he told me that he had “a TSTC story” that I needed to hear.

The story was about “a kid” that barely made it out of high school who worked for him after graduation. After a while, “the kid” realized that he needed more education and enrolled in the Laser/Electro-Optics Technology (LET) at TSTC Waco. The company owner said it took “the kid” a long time to make it through because he had to keep working.

After graduating with an A.A.S. in LET, “the kid” got a good job working for a big technology company. After a few more years passed, the owner contacted him to see if he wanted to work in construction again for around $60,000 a year. “The kid” said, “No thanks.” He was making $125,000 a year at Texas Instruments. The construction guy finished the story by talking about how well someone can do without a M.S. or even B.A. degree.

A life was changed, a needed skill was learned, a company created new products, and “the kid” grew up to be something nobody ever expected. That is the joy of technical education. That is the story that we have to tell over and over until everyone starts to listen.

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The South Carolina Difference

December 18th, 2007 | Category: Skills in Demand

On our recent trip to South Carolina, we were impressed with the well-organized and highly motivated push for economic development in the state. Part of that organization and motivation comes from the involvement of the South Carolina Technical College System in workforce training. To quote the website:

As an integral part of the SC Technical College System, The Center for Accelerated Technology Training and its readySC™ program work together with the 16 Technical Colleges to prepare South Carolina’s workforce to meet the needs of your company.
Established in 1961, readySC™ is one of the oldest and most experienced workforce training programs in the United States. We are ready to bring this experience and expertise to work for your company.

The focus is on training and assistance, not on making money for the colleges. The program does not charge the company if they are expanding employment opportunities in the state. There is very little red tape and no grant application process delay. That makes readySC™ quick to help when the company needs it, not when the bureaucracy finishes with the paperwork.

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Higher Education Act Overhaul

December 18th, 2007 | Category: Higher Education, Legislation

Community College Week has a summary of changes to the Higher Education Act passed unanimously by the House Committee on Education and Labor. You can find it in the PDF here (see page 14). It raises grants and loans, requires more responsible relationships with “preferred lenders,” sets some extra rules for textbook publishers, and has some interesting grant opportunities. Of particular interest to technical higher ed is the National Database on Financial Assistance for Study of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. There is a lot more. Read it all.


California Senator on CTE

December 18th, 2007 | Category: Legislation, Skills in Demand, Technical Education Awareness

California State Senator Tom Torlakson has something to say about career and technical education.

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It sounds like he understands. I hope the other politicians are listening!

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FDR Knew

December 16th, 2007 | Category: Technical Education Awareness

Here is an interesting quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt. It uses the now verboten word “vocation,” but he is talking about what we now call CTE:

“We know that already many of the professions are over-supplied and it is a fair guess that during the coming generation we shall devote more attention to educating our boys and girls for vocational pursuits which are just as honorable, just as respectable, and in many instances just as remunerative as are the professions themselves.”

I would only add that are some “vocations” are actually more remunerative than a number of the “professions.” (gleaned from a PDF on the ACTE website - Association for Career and Technical Education)

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SkillsUSA Membership Drive

December 16th, 2007 | Category: General, Skills in Demand, Technical Education Awareness

SkillsUSA (the career/tech organization formerly know as VICA) has announced a campaign to reach 300,000 members. That works out to 20,000 new members. SkillsUSA is a super organization that does a lot to help encourage the training of a skilled workforce.

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Upgrading from Vista to XP

December 16th, 2007 | Category: Geek Stuff

There is a funny and well-written post on “upgrading” to the older version of Windows at Coding Sanity. Read it for the fun of it.

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Fuel Cells and Hydrogen

December 13th, 2007 | Category: General, Research, Technical Education Awareness

Greetings from “The Palmetto State” (South Carolina). Texas State Technical College Waco had the first fuel cell technician program in the country thanks to grants, great leadership, and a very smart hard-working guy named Sidney Bolfing. We are here looking at partnerships to enhance our cooperation with Aiken Technical College, Savannah River National Laboratory, Midlands Technical College, and the University of South Carolina.

The Center for Hydrogen Research at Savannah River is involved in hydrogen storage research. They are working to provide answers to the problems posed by trying to create a hydrogen infrastructure. The research we saw at USC was more specifically aimed at hydrogen fuel cells. Seeing the problems that fuel cells currently face helped me to understand why adoption has been slower than originally hoped. Researchers are trying to find the answers to problems like better materials for components, efficiency, durability, cost, etc.

It has all been very cool and the hospitality has been superb. Thanks to our friends at Aiken Technical College for hosting us!

BTW - when you are visiting SC, try out the “shrimp and grits” with collard greens at the Blue Marlin in Columbia. You’ll be glad you did.

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SACS Puts Texas Tech on Probation

December 13th, 2007 | Category: Accreditation

Let me be clear - Texas Tech University in Lubbock is on probation, not Texas State Technical College Waco where I work. It seems that Texas Tech did not manage to assess their competencies in time for the New Orleans conference where the reaccreditation announcements were made. The article is in the Dallas Morning News is here. I mention this mainly because it shows how serious SACS is about those Gen Ed competencies and assessment (see earlier post).

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Bye Bye, Bayou

December 11th, 2007 | Category: Accreditation

I’m back home (momentarily). We are leaving tonight for Aiken Technical College in South Carolina (with an overnight in Dallas along the way). I wanted to summarize what I saw at the SACS COC conference:

  1. COC President Dr. Belle Wheelan is a wonderful speaker. She seems to enjoy her job and I think that she is moving the commission in the right direction. If you get a chance to hear her speak, you should take it.
  2. SACS accreditation changes are driving a lot of good thinking and rethinking of how we focus on student learning. Those changes are also making enough people nervous about their next SACS visit to drive attendance at the conference. They set a record with 3800 attendees in New Orleans. (participants list available here)
  3. The COC is working to clear up some language in legislation that both houses of Congress are working on right now. That language seems to give a greater role to the Department of Education in accreditation matters than anyone in higher education would desire.
  4. This was my first trip to New Orleans. It is an interesting and different place. I think it is worth a visit for historical, architectural, culinary, and musical reasons. I would like to go back again when I can spend more time visiting restaurants and listening to blues and jazz bands. (Check out New Orleans station WWOZ online).

I attended some important sessions on SACS “substantive change” procedures and electronic portfolios, but the focus of SACS on continuous improvement in student learning outcomes was most interesting to me.

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“General Education” Outcomes and TechEd

December 08th, 2007 | Category: Academic Skills, Accreditation, Technical Education Awareness

I went to a couple of very interesting presentations today at the SACS COC conference here in The Big Easy. Both sessions dealt with creating general education goals (outcomes/expectations), infusing them into the system, and measuring success. I am very interested in the application of those methods to general technical education outcomes.

My informal statement of overall goals for our students at TSTC Waco is this:
“Our graduates should exhibit the behavior, attitudes, and skills of a professional technician.”

When I broke that down for our students at orientation, I included trouble-shooting, love for your field, learning behavior, communication skills, troubleshooting skills, honesty/ethics, and customer-service focus. It turns out that most of those things are really close to what liberal arts institutions call General Education Goals or Expectations.

I find this interesting because it helps provide a unified theme, consistent message, and persistent reinforcement for these behaviors, skills and attitudes throughout the technical college experience. It certainly includes academic as well as technical courses (see earlier post on “the great divide”). The second session indicated that we should be considering how our co-curricular activities help our students meet these goals as well. Yes – Student Development (or Student Affairs, or Student Life, or whatever they have thought to call it on your campus) can be involved in the educational process in more than just a supporting role.

All of this is driven by the SACS requirements and it makes sense:

3.3.1 - The institution identifies expected outcomes for its educational programs and its administrative and educational support services; assesses whether it achieves these outcomes; and provides evidence of improvement based on analysis of those results.

3.5.1 - The institution identifies college-level competencies within the general education core and provides evidence that graduates have attained those competencies.

All of this may have been obvious to everyone but me, but I’ve had a pretty educational day.


I’m walkin’ to New Orleans

December 07th, 2007 | Category: Accreditation, General

Well, OK, I actually flew - but I’m still in New Orleans. This is my first time here, so I can’t compare pre-Katrina with post-Katrina. I’m here for the SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) Commission on Colleges “112th Annual Meeting.” I’ll update later on any revelations it contains for post-secondary technical education.

Next week I am off to visit Aiken Technical College in South Carolina. I am certain that trip will also yield a lot of useful information. It is always interesting to see how other colleges do things.

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Gifts for Geeks

December 06th, 2007 | Category: Geek Stuff

A little off-subject, but Amazon has posted a gift-guide for geeks! As a geek I appreciate the attention. Among other cool stuff - Hacking Firefox, Dr. Who, Monty Python, HTML joke T-shirts, and an Ethernet loop back jack. Yep, these are my people!

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Technical vs. Academic?

Technical education students sometimes think that academic courses are a waste of time because they don’t focus specifically on technology (job) skills. Technical teachers don’t always make it clear that academics are important. It isn’t difficult for an engineering technology teacher to see the importance of academic math, although the student often doesn’t make the connection. When it comes to composition, literature, psychology, or humanities the connection may not seem clear to the teacher, either.

I’ve always told my students about how important communications skills are to their careers. Passing a couple of composition classes tells an employer that you can communicate in writing. Well-written reports and correspondence will always be valued in business. A technician must have the ability to explain problems and solutions in clear language to customers or supervisors who don’t understand the technology.

What about literature, humanities, or psychology courses? Are they useful? Reading is the best way to improve vocabulary, spelling, and grammar. Reading literature and studying art are important because communication is more than just words. Communication takes place in a cultural context. It also takes place in a social and psychological context. Being a well-rounded individual is a plus for any worker.

Does taking academic courses help in other ways? Here are a few:

  • Teaches skills important for technicians who want to advance to management
  • Provides a head start for those who decide to pursue further education
  • Instills confidence to communicate and navigate in the community
  • Well-educated parents raise well-educated children

Let the technical and academic teachers see that they are partners. We are all in this together!

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Enhancing Math Knowledge Through CTE

December 04th, 2007 | Category: College Readiness, Research

There is an interesting study on the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) site. It tracks the effect of teaching enhanced math lessons in CTE courses. The results were pretty impressive. To quote the study, “After 1 year of exposure to the math-enhanced lessons, the students in the experimental classrooms performed significantly better on the TerraNova and ACCUPLACER tests of math ability.”

This interested me because TSTC Waco and Waco Independent School District have been working together on a CTE math course specifically designed to raise the college entrance test scores for high school students who have already passed the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills - more on the gap between high school exit and college entrance another time). The idea was to base the course on the math portion of the college entrance test (Accuplacer and THEA). Technology teachers provided projects from their classes that would match the entrance test objectives.

Eventually it will come together in a course called “Analytical Integrated Mathematics” (AIM). Secondary CTE or Math teachers wishing to teach AIM will be required to take the approved teacher training that is being developed along with the course. It will be piloted in a number of school districts across Texas next year. The hope is that we will see big improvements in acceptable placement scores. If the outcome is good, AIM might wind up being certified state-wide as a fourth-year math (the legislature just passed a law requiring four years of math).

I’ll keep you posted.

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Employers Desperate for Skilled Technicians

December 02nd, 2007 | Category: Skills in Demand

I should no longer be amazed when I see the great jobs available and the desperation of employers for people with the temperament and skills to fill those positions. I have seen John Deere, Caterpillar, Toyota, and Chrysler repeatedly donate equipment and vehicles, help with tools and supplies, send key people from around the country for advisory meetings, provide OJT in internships and cooperative educational opportunities in their shops, and offer to give free rides to students who are willing to come to work when they graduate. We have received MRI machines, supercomputing equipment, money for scholarships, political support, and many other kinds of help from other companies and advisory members in anticipation of more graduates to employ. All along, I hear them saying that we are not producing enough graduates. “We are trying,” we keep saying. “There just aren’t students entering the pipe on the other end.”

What brings all of this to mind again was a visit we had from Chevron representatives this week. Along with giving us an nice donation for scholarships, we also saw a presentation pointed at our Industrial Systems, Instrumentation, and Diesel Equipment Technology students. Here is a brief summary of the presentation:

  • Chevron needs to hire 6000 technicians this year.
  • Technician trainees start at $21/hr ($42,000 before raises and without overtime)
  • Full benefits begin immediately
  • Along with a pension, there is a savings plan where the company matches $20 with $80
  • 75% of educational expenses can be reimbursed
  • Positions are available in this country and all of the world
  • Paid summer internships are offered.

All of this is for two-year degrees in fields that most high school teachers and counselors don’t even know about, much less understand the demand. When will the news get out? I don’t know. As long as the dominant media narrative remains stuck on “Everyone must get a four-year degree,” I don’t think we will see a change.

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