Workplace is guiding college's programs

Howard Community adds courses reflecting student demand, job opportunities

Howard County

August 26, 2002|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Students working toward professions and professionals who want to study are the target of several new degree programs at Howard Community College this year. Keeping with a growth trend that included 17 new programs last year, the college has identified nine more areas, based upon student demand and local job opportunities.

As the semester starts on the Columbia campus today, administrators expect 8 percent to 10 percent more students than last year. People on the Columbia campus will find construction in full swing for an academic building, to be finished in the winter. Renovations on the athletic facilities are finished, and an area with computers has been set up in the student dining area as a "cyber cafe."

For some, the most important changes will be new programs that will get students on track for growing career fields, help professionals earn academic degrees, or prepare people to study at four-year schools.

"In the past two years, we have really looked more carefully [at the curriculum] to see where our omissions were," said Ronald Roberson, vice president of academic affairs.

A commission of community leaders, convened by college President Mary Ellen F. Duncan when she took the post in 1998, also inspired growth in the class catalog.

"The Commission on the Future charged us with developing new programs in health," among other areas, Roberson said.

Future athletic trainers can earn an associate of arts degree in athletic training and transfer to a program accredited by the National Athletic Training Association. People interested in other exercise and wellness careers can prepare to transfer by earning an associate's degree in exercise science.

Those looking at nonclinical jobs in a health field can learn about organizational, policy and insurance issues while earning an associate's degree in health care management and administration.

"We didn't have programs like this at the college before," said Emily Slunt, chairwoman of the college's health sciences division. Previously, athletic training, fitness and health were combined in one program. But, she said, many students who want to work in training and fitness fields at a four-year school start their education at a two-year school.

Population aging

Opportunities in health fields are growing, Slunt said. As the baby boomer generation ages, the number of older individuals is increasing in Howard and throughout the country, and people overall are becoming more health- and fitness-conscious.

"We think [these programs] fulfill both a student and a community need in Howard County," Slunt said.

With the renovations to the athletic center - including a refurbished fitness center, updated locker and weight rooms, and improvements to the pool - Slunt said, "It seems like this is the time to put all those things together." Students learning about training and fitness will use the facilities to augment their classwork.

Another health program targets people who have careers as emergency medical technicians, cardiovascular technicians or massage therapists, but lack academic credentials. The new Health Care for the Professional program offers credit for previous technical training in these areas and offers the English, humanities, social sciences and math courses needed toward an associate's degree in applied science.

In several fields, practitioners typically take only the necessary technical training, said Angel Clark Burba, an associate professor and EMS program coordinator. "We want to focus on getting them some academic credit, which may open up venues in other health care fields or opportunities for more leadership."

Burba said the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue requested such training for its employees in discussions with the college, which began offering EMS training a couple of years ago.

General Studies added

Several other new areas of study will begin this year to fill gaps in the curriculum. For the first time, the college will offer degree programs in mathematics and English, which are intended to help students transfer to four-year schools and earn bachelor's degrees in those disciplines.

"I don't know why we never had them before," Roberson said.

The school also added a program called General Studies for Certificate Students. Those who study at Howard Community College to earn a certificate in one specific area can use the program to work toward a broader associate's degree.

The school also has added two programs in photonics technology: one for an associate of applied science degree and one for a certificate of proficiency.

The photonics program, which was developed over several years, is another an example of the college responding to a specific industry in the community, Roberson said.

"No one foresaw the economic downturn" that has limited jobs in the industry recently, he said. But if things improve, he said, "the school will be ready in the future."

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