New Jersey's 19 two-year community colleges are important partners in New Jersey Pathways Leading Apprentices to a College Education or NJ PLACE. They have all added a new Technical Studies degree to their lineup, which allows participants in NJ PLACE to apply the college credits they earn through their apprenticeships toward an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Degree in Technical Studies.
Gloucester County College was one of the first to test the NJ PLACE concept when it offered a college-credit Intro to Materials course two years ago to a class of ironworkers. Randee Davidson, director for the Youth Transition to Work grant at Gloucester County College, explains what is necessary to earn a Technical Studies degree and possibly then go on to a four-year college to continue coursework. "There are three components to earning the Technical Studies degree," explains Davidson, "your apprenticeship training, your career electives and then the general education that you have to have to get any associates degree. You earn your 25 core technical credits when you go through an apprenticeship program. On top of that you can begin the process of getting the Technical Studies degree by picking up on the career electives, which are another 12 credits earned in such classes as Codes, Contracts and Specifications and Principles of Management. Finally, the general education credits are earned by taking courses in English, Math, Science and Intro to Computers."
Gloucester County College is talking with Drexel, a four-year university, to work an agreement by which Technical Studies grads will be able to roll their credits earned at Gloucester into a four-year degree in construction management or some other construction-related degree. "It's a great investment that the state has made through the Department of Labor & Workforce Development by working with the community colleges this way," says Peter Contini, president of Salem Community College and one of the original advocates of the NJ PLACE program. "It goes back to that idea of having the jobs that are going to keep us competitive in the state and drive economic development. The truth will be in the quality of what we do. We have to make sure that we are proud of what we have accomplished and what we've done will meet the test of the academic rigor that will not only provide credits on a transcript, but more importantly provide a well-prepared individual to go into the workforce or transfer to a four-year college."
Contini, who once served as a vocational high school principal, recognizes that NJ PLACE is also about giving credit where he believes it is long overdue. "It's part of the growth of appreciation of applied education," he says. "These positions in occupational/vocational education require not only skills and hands-on, but using a variety of skills that have the academic rigor and have the application of technical education, as well as communications skills, working in teams and all the other things that are important to being successful. I think the recruitment for apprenticeship training programs is going to be enhanced. No longer will parents have that old concern of whether my kids are going to go to college or go into an apprenticeship. The fact is, now they can do both."