The National STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Consortium (NSC), a collaboration of ten community colleges in nine states, is building a portfolio of one-year STEM certificate programs. The Department of Labor is funding the NSC through a $19.7 million, three-year Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Train¬ing (TAACCCT) grant. Targeting regional labor markets, the NSC will develop and deliver curricula in five high-demand fields—Composite Materials, Cyber Technology, Electric Vehicle Technology, Environmen¬tal Technology, and Mechatronics—and disseminate them to community colleges nationwide.
Anne Arundel Community College is lead college for both the entire grant and its Cyber Technology team, comprising five of the ten NSC colleges. The Cyber pathway has adopted the NIST NICE framework as the basis for its learning outcomes, specifically the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs) from the Customer Service and Technical Support job category. Linking to, and designing around, the NICE framework provides an industry-validated, nationally standardized way to show employers what graduates will bring to work their first day on the job.
As the NIST NICE framework makes clear, the cybersecurity field contains a wide range of jobs, some of them still being codified. What is also becoming clear is that not every cyber job requires a four-year or even a two-year degree. Faced with a shortage of qualified staff, cyber employers are turning to workers with the specific, hands-on technical skills they need. Certificate programs can deliver these workers. Research shows that high-quality, sub-baccalaureate certificates of one year or longer, especially in fields like technology, (1) offer good labor market returns, (2) can “significantly boost the likelihood of student academic and career success,” and (3) are “consistently linked to increased earnings.”
Meanwhile, in a changing labor market and difficult economy, many workers face displacement, unemployment, or underem¬ployment. Economic and family circumstances may prevent displaced workers from retraining for a new career, however, or limit recent high-school graduates when training for their first career job. The NSC aims to bridge the skills gap, connect work¬ers to industry, and strengthen the cybersecurity pipeline by offering innovative occupational training that takes students’ limiting circumstances into account. The NSC Cyber Technology certificate is part of a “Career Pathway” with multiple, flexible entry and exit points, offering credentials students can stack from certificate to associate’s degree to bachelor’s degree and beyond.
The NSC is implementing two evidence-based strategies to boost student success: built-for-completion design and STEM Bridge remediation. Built-for-completion design (1) offers a compressed schedule that takes only one year, but allows students to continue working; (2) assigns students to cohorts, creating tight structure and deepening teamwork; (3) restructures traditional course content according to a modular, hybrid delivery model; (4) and embeds student support and employer linkages. STEM Bridge remediation—a ground-breaking effort in higher education—uses whole-program design to contextual¬ize remediation within the certificate pathway, quickly building the math, language, technical, communication, and critical thinking skills of underprepared students.
The NSC co-developed STEM Bridge with Project OPEN, a Gates-funded consortium providing technical assistance to TAACCCT grantees to help them meet grant requirements and create innovative programs. Project OPEN has chosen NSC as lead grantee for this national-level effort to benefit all TAACCCT grantees. The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) and Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative (OLI), two members of Project OPEN, are teaming with NSC to co-develop “STEM Readiness” training. This cutting-edge curriculum will bypass traditional, ineffective developmental education to rethink best practices from the classroom using learning science, advanced instructional design, and state-of-the-art online learning environments. Training will be delivered in a hybrid online/classroom format, with detailed learning analytics to guide instruction and measure student outcomes.