The author is board chair of Metropolitan Community College. This was written in collaboration with the entire 11-member board.
A recent Omaha World-Herald article reported proponents of a regional career center want to create a place where high schoolers can learn skills in the trades. The Metropolitan Community College Board of Governors is proud to state that such a place already exists, through the work of your local community college and its partnerships with area public and private school districts, businesses, nonprofits and donors.
As part of Metro’s highly collaborative career academy and dual enrollment model, high school students today can take classes to get a head start on college, earn a certification in a specific skill or explore the future. With over 20 academies to choose from, spanning career fields from business to health to the trades, local high school students have the opportunity to learn skills at Metro locations or in their high school, earning both high school and college credit at the same time. Because the vast majority of well-paying jobs in our economy require education beyond high school, it makes sense to provide both career training and college credit at the same time. In 2017-18, 3,992 students earned college credits at Metro through dual enrollment and career academies, while attending high school. Next spring Millard Public Schools will graduate 80 students with both a high school diploma and a two-year associate degree from Metro.
Omaha’s educational and workforce situation is unique, with 42 percent of Nebraska’s population living within our service area. Multiple, independent school districts, all working on different academic calendars and daily schedules, bring complexity and unique needs to the table when career education initiatives are considered. We are proud that Metro has responded with innovative career programming that is available to all students across the entire region.
In recent years, Metro has invested in career and technical education as never before. Investments span the college’s four-county service area, with public-private partnerships resulting in the creation of a $90 million expansion at the Fort Omaha Campus, focused on the construction trades and IT. And, recently, we announced a $44 million expansion at the South Omaha Campus, where automotive and manufacturing trades are the focus. High school students are already taking advantage of these expansions. For example, our Fire Science Technology career academy, one of 22 academies, currently has students representing 11 high schools. With more than 80 career programs to choose from, Metro stands ready to prepare our workforce for the future.
The philanthropic community has supported our mission through capital and scholarship donations. The donations have supported hundreds of high school students and others who attend Metro every year. For example, Avenue Scholars, a local nonprofit school-to-work program, will assist 885 high school students, involve 381 businesses and award scholarships to 200 high school graduates to attend Metro career and technical programs, this year alone.
Simply stated, this local partnership model works to leverage existing resources and facilities. If community partners want to further invest in career education at the high school level, we suggest investing the time and energy to further partner with Metro and local school districts to make full use of existing community facilities and programs. Thanks to strong community support, this public-private partnership has made the difference for thousands in our community.