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Can’t find a good job? College certificate programs target careers

Sometimes a college degree is not enough.

Despite the fact that college graduates earn almost twice as much as their high school counterparts, according to the Pew Research Center, I know several recent college grads who haven’t been able to find jobs that are particularly fulfilling.

Granted, these young adults have degrees in creative writing, history and sports management — not areas dripping with job opportunities.

Another option is to retool your career path with certification. Some local colleges, particularly Tarrant County College, are geared up to address this need of pairing college graduates with professional jobs available in the area.

There was a time when what you got a degree in didn’t matter. That’s not true today. John Spencer, district registrar and director of academic support services, Tarrant County College

TCC offers roughly 130 separate certificate of completion programs and marketable skill awards, short-term programs designed to make you more employable.

“There was a time when what you got a degree in didn’t matter,” said John Spencer, district registrar and director of academic support services for TCC. “That’s not true today. The finances of employers are so tight, they want to have somebody who can go to work.”

This extra training can bridge that gap, Spencer said.

Both the certificate and awards programs are drawing thousands of new students to TCC. This fall, total enrollment for associate degrees offered by the school reached 51,343 students. But those seeking certificates or awards double the student body to around 100,000, said Rita Parson, spokeswoman for the college.

That makes TCC one of the 20 largest higher education institutions in the United States.

One such student was Russell Miller. A 2010 graduate of Texas State with a degree in business management, the Fort Worth native worked as a recruiter for his university after graduating.

“But I wasn’t happy,” he said. After 18 months, he moved back to Fort Worth to try to enter the construction field, but said he had little luck.

I wanted to go into construction, but when you looked at me on paper, it didn’t say that. Russell Miller, who earned a certificate in Construction Management Technology from TCC

“I wanted to go into construction, but when you looked at me on paper, it didn’t say that,” he said. “I had a family background in construction, but not one that fit on a resume.”

Miller found the certificate in Construction Management Technology program at TCC and enrolled. The 25 credit-hour certificate includes course work in construction estimating, blueprint reading, methods and materials, building codes and inspections and green building.

After the first semester, Miller landed an internship at Fort Worth-based D.R. Horton, the nation’s top homebuilder, through a connection with his associate professor. He completed his certificate a year later and now works as a construction superintendent for Horton.

“It opened up the doors for me,” Miller said.

TCC offers similar programs in 13 different divisions ranging from agriculture and architecture to finance, healthcare and information technology. Certificates can be obtained in computer-aided drafting, diagnostic medical sonography, paralegal and hospitality management. Most programs take a year or two to finish. Tuition is $59 a credit hour.

In addition, TCC has another program called Marketable Skills Award to jumpstart your career. Available in 14 areas, these are faster programs that typically require only 9-14 semester hours in a technical area. Programs include basic bookkeeping, dietetics and child development.

All of the programs have advisory committees with business and industry members, Spencer said.

“We count on them to give us a sense of what is needed now and what will be needed in the future,” he said. “We are constantly tweaking the requirements for the programs based on what we get from the advisory committee.”

And the programs are vertically integrated and stackable, Spencer said. Someone starting in a heating and air conditioning technician award could ultimately get a bachelor’s degree in Applied Science, he said.

“The idea is that you can build upon these credentials,” he said.

With the demise of ITT Technical Institute last month, which had ten campuses in Texas including one in Arlington with reportedly 500 students, other for-profit schools offering similar training to TCC are under the gun right now. ITT closed after new federal sanctions accused the school of misleading students about their programs’ quality and encouraging them to take on risky loans.

Spencer said he fears more closings could occur as more for-profit schools come under federal scrutiny.

“For students in those schools, the long-term viability of where they are going is in question as the feds tighten up on them,” he said.

TCC is working with ITT students to try to continue their education, establishing what coursework, if any, may transfer, Spencer said.

“It’s on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “Their student loan debt could be discharged if they didn’t take the credit. Unless they were close to completing, it might not be worth it to keep the credit.”

For more information on TCC’s program, go to www.tccd.edu and search for certifications.

Other nonprofit colleges like TCC offering certificate programs in the area include the University of Texas at Arlington. UTA offers certificate programs in healthcare, technology, professional services, environmental health and safety, and fire and safety. Check under the division for Enterprise Development at http://www.uta.edu/uta/.

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