Underserved groups face many barriers to applying to college. For some, it may be English skills or daunting placement tests. For others, lack of documentation on previous studies from their country of origin or time constraints. Degrees also take years to earn, and even attending a college campus can be scary.
Then there is the price.
What if there was a way to provide more flexibility in terms of admission requirements, course options and costs?
That’s what Salt Lake Community College had in mind when it renamed its School of Applied Technology Salt Lake Technical College.
The goal is to integrate technical skills into the college curriculum and help students advance or enter the workforce. Programs include certifications in healthcare, information technology, truck driving, and machining. These trainings would be spread over six campuses – South City, Jordan, West Valley Center, Westpointe Center, Taylorsville Redwood and the Miller Campus in Sandy.
The school also offers Contextual English as a Second Language courses, suitable for technical programs with vocabulary related to various industries.
“A lot of higher education institutions started paying attention to it a long time ago,” said Deneece Huftalin, president of Salt Lake Community College. “I actually think universities are starting to think about that too, is that the processes we put in place were for very privileged people,” like assuming high school records are readily available to everyone.
In this technical school, the admission process is not standardized but based on individual interviews with future students and some programs are taught in two languages. It’s also cheaper, with subsidies from the state, employers, and private scholarships.
“The more global our world becomes and the more refugees we support, the more flexible we need to be about how we assess knowledge and what it is. [Whether it is] lived experience versus book knowledge,” Huftalin said. “And how can we give you credit for this lived experience? »
This change has an immediate impact on communities on the west side.
Attending the college’s West Valley Center often meant enrolling in general education or ESL classes, and then, once students got wet, they transferred credits to learn a technical trade on campus at Taylorsville Redwood.
Preparing for Jobs at the New WVC Hospital
Now, given the upcoming addition of a major University of Utah hospital complex in West Valley City, there is enough reason to ramp up short-term health care programs at this center to students who wish to become certified practical nurses, physician assistants or licensed practical nurses.
“We’re going to start trying to do everything we can in this center in these community neighborhoods so that the workforce is developed as the hospital comes out of the ground,” Huftalin said. “So now you don’t have to leave your neighborhood.”
Courses that were previously uncredited now qualify for technical credits. “We’re going to make sure,” Huftalin said, “that we align and add programs that have been underdeveloped over the years.”
Salt Lake Technical College continues the mission of the former School of Applied Technology. At the Westpointe Center, the diesel lab looks like a workshop with trucks, engines, transmissions and brakes. Students learn basic and advanced engine, electrical and hydraulic systems.
Students from all types of backgrounds attend the technical school. In the diesel systems technology class, for example, new high school graduates and mechanics with years of experience learn or hone their skills.
When Clint Layton, 45, had to take a break from working as a small engine mechanic due to health issues, his 17-year-old son Jared, who was following in his father’s footsteps and started studying to be a mechanic, suggested that he joins the program.
Now Clint is not only helping Jared in the shop with systems he already knows, but also preparing himself for other work opportunities, incorporating truck engines into his resume.
“That’s pretty cool. When he was in high school, I didn’t spend much time [together with him]”, Clint said. “And now I see it every day.”
From class to workplace
After completing the program, alumni typically have a variety of jobs to choose from and often earn around $23 an hour after earning a year-long certificate, said Jeff Mulligan, Diesel Systems Technology Coordinator at SLCC. .
“There will be diesel mechanics in the workshops; they will work on heavy equipment [such as semitrucks]”, Mulligan said. “…They will be qualified to go out and work on a lot of things there as far as in the diesel industry.”
That was Alvaro Huizar’s intention when he entered the program a few months ago: to work in the automotive industry, an interest he acquired at Taylorsville High School.
“Coming from a family that has been in construction all my life, I wanted to try something different because the physical labor in construction is hard,” Huizar said. “I wanted something that didn’t give you a lot of weight, something a little more laid back but still practical because I’ve always wanted to do hands-on activities.”
But in order for people to sign up for these types of programs, they need to be aware of it – and that’s a challenge that SLCC is trying to overcome.
For every student who has discovered and enrolled in a technical course, there are three or four others in the community who are unclear about opportunities to enter and obtain financial aid for their studies, said Jennifer Saunders, dean of the new Salt Lake Technical College.
The college also communicates with employers to determine hiring needs and to connect students with jobs. For those who want to learn contextual vocabulary in other languages, there are also accelerated basic Spanish courses that rotate from campus to campus throughout the year.
The name change “is an embellishment of this communication”. said Saunders. “But it’s also a new commitment to serve marginalized and vulnerable populations.”
People in underserved communities often work a few part-time jobs and earn just enough to cover essentials, Saunders said. The fastest way to change career prospects is to learn a technical skill and be immediately placed in a job.
“It quickly launches a career trajectory, that there’s progression and then there’s advancement and there’s healthcare and there’s an emotional component that’s hard to quantify,” Saunders said. “But it’s very real.”
Hybrid programs, with virtual and on-campus options, also help students with smaller, more flexible class sizes.
“We don’t lose sight that if you haven’t been a successful student or you’ve had bad experiences or your language is still developing, a college campus is pretty daunting,” Saunders said. “So we’re really strategizing and debriefing with the students.”
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America member of the corps and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for the Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this; please consider making a tax deductible donation of any amount today by clicking here.