Q&A Paul Morris & Justina Thomas – Delaware Technical Community College
Rapidly growing, innovative sectors such as tech, health care and clean energy need candidates with the right skills. Young Delawareans need jobs. The problem: many high school graduates haven’t had the tools to succeed in college-level training programs due to the persistent equity gap affecting students of color. Delaware Technical Community College (DTCC) has emerged as a leader in closing that gap. To find out how DTCC accomplished this and learn more about skills training for Delaware’s most innovative sectors, we spoke to Justina Thomas, vice president of academic affairs, and Paul Morris, associate vice president of workforce development and community education.
DTCC is one one of only four colleges in the country to be named a 2021 Leader College by the nonprofit Achieving the Dream. What led to DTCC being recognized?
Thomas: In 2018, we joined a national network called Achieving the Dream. We’ve been working towards completing some action goals that we set for ourselves in that first year of our membership. One of the goals was to redesign our math and English programs, which included eliminating several layers of developmental education, also known as remedial education. Some students would take two or three levels of developmental education before entering college-level math or English. So we created something called the co-requisite model. What happens now is that all students who enter Delaware Tech will take college-level English and math in their first semester. Those students who still need support, we’ll put them in a support course that runs alongside the college-level course. We applied to be a leader college [with Achieving the Dream] because we were seeing preliminary success in that new approach. Specifically, we were seeing an overall success rate for the students that we would have traditionally called developmental students.Those students who are taking a college-level course and the support course are being successful in both.
The second factor is that we’ve demonstrated that we are closing the equity gaps between our students of color and our white students, and that’s significant. That is one of the hallmarks of Achieving the Dream. One of the things that has led to that is eliminating the barrier of developmental education because we do know that underrepresented students tend to be placed in developmental education at a higher rate. And what typically happens in traditional developmental education programs is, students will come into an institution with a test score, whether that’s the SAT or the college’s own placement test. So there’s that barrier that places them in either college level or developmental, and then those developmental programs have layers. You have to take a basic English class, then a next-level class and maybe even another one. Often, those students just drop out. It’s a dead end for them, so we lose them in the pipeline and they never make it to college level. Just eliminating that barrier has given better access to all students.
Late last year, DTCC received a grant from JPMorgan Chase to support students in its Information Technology & Networking (ITN) program. What will the grant enable you to do?
Morris: We received a previous grant that’s actually just ending from JPMorgan for our ITN program, and it was centered around assisting our students in gaining workplace learning opportunities. We were building infrastructure for our students, connecting them to opportunities with employers prior to graduation. So it wasn’t just about engaging employers in the IT field — it was about creating systems to connect to those opportunities. The next phase is to take our ITN program and connect it to high school students. We’re calling this “1+1”. The students finish half their degree while they’re still in high school. We’re partnering with the New Castle County Vo-Tech District and, more specifically, Howard High School will be the pilot. Those students will do 30credits of our ITN program in high school and then, when they graduate, will finish their second year at Delaware Tech. The second grant is helping us fund that. We are also creating an apprenticeship opportunity for our ITN program and a pre-apprenticeship program in high school, so the program will have students take Delaware Tech courses in ITN, but also engage with employers in the pre-apprenticeship. Basically, we’re reaching back to the high school level to create a pipeline of ITN graduates.
You’ve recently opened a new Healthcare Center of Excellence in Dover. Why was the center needed, and how will it make a difference to both DTCC students and employers in the sector?
Morris: The focus of that center is going to be on our short-term training program. We offer those up and down the state. The center is going to be in Kent County, but we’ll also reach into Southern New Castle and into Sussex County. That will enable us to serve the major health systems — ChristianaCare, Beebe, Bayhealth — and the long-term care facilities. That center will house programs like Certified Nursing Assistant, Medical Billing & Coding, Medical Administrative Assistant, Dental Assistant, Patient Care Assistant — all those programs have credentials tied to them that allow students once they finish their clinical experience to go right into the field. The center is going to not only properly educate students, but connect them to employers and have employers be involved in the program.
Clean energy is a fast-growing sector in Delaware. How does DTCC prepare its students for opportunities in this industry?
Thomas: We have a few associate degree programs: Energy Management, Building Automation Systems, Renewable Energy Solar and Refrigeration Heating & Air Conditioning.In Energy Management, students are learning how to improve energy efficiency in commercial and residential spaces. In Building Automation Systems, they learn how to improve efficiency through the building controls within a facility. And with Renewable Energy Solar, of course they’re learning how to install solar arrays, but they’re also learning how to be site assessors —the customer service that goes along with it, the estimation and auditing. We have several connected degrees with Wilmington University, so students can complete two years with us and then move on to WilmU for example in Energy Management, Renewable Energy Solar or Environmental Science & Policy. I think it provides a great opportunity for students to achieve upward mobility into a bachelor’s degree if that’s the path that they choose.