‘Access to Success’ connects Community College of Aurora students to jobs

Late last month, CCA was one of 14 colleges in the country selected to receive a four-year “Access to Success” grant intended to offset childcare costs for community college students with children under the age of 13 and fast track them to jobs in a trio of budding fields

AURORA | Students at the Community College of Aurora will have a clearer pathway to health care, information technology and advanced manufacturing jobs in the coming years thanks to a new $3.9-million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Late last month, CCA was one of 14 colleges in the country selected to receive a four-year “Access to Success” grant intended to offset childcare costs for community college students with children under the age of 13 and fast track them to jobs in a trio of budding fields, according to Victor Vialpando, dean of academic affairs at CCA.

Expected to start accepting applicants this October, Vialpando said the grant will help fund the education of about 170 students each year through 2020.

Vialpando said that the students will earn certificates in the respective fields by taking classes that span up to one year in length, depending on the subject.

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Students sit in a career services class on Tuesday July 19, 2016 at Community College of Aurora Lowry Campus. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160719-CCA-Aurora, Colorado

Emily Lun sits in a career services class on Tuesday July 19, 2016 at Community College of Aurora Lowry Campus. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160719-CCA-Aurora, Colorado

Students sit in a career services class on Tuesday July 19, 2016 at Community College of Aurora Lowry Campus. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160719-CCA-Aurora, Colorado

Students sit in a career services class on Tuesday July 19, 2016 at Community College of Aurora Lowry Campus. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160719-CCA-Aurora, Colorado

Jasmien Houcks sits in a career services class on Tuesday July 19, 2016 at Community College of Aurora Lowry Campus. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

“The idea is to get them through that credential process relatively quickly so they can be placed into a job and then into the workforce as quickly as possible,” he said.

The grant will target students with at least one child under the age of 13, according to Vialpando. He said that the goal of the program, deemed the “Strengthening Working Families Initiative” by the Department of Labor, will be to make it easier for working parents to further their education and find work.

“Childcare is extremely costly if (a student is) going into a longer license area (of study), so they may have to drop out or miss class,” Vialpando said. “We’re really trying to address that systemic issue and meet students where they are.”

The grant will also provide money to offset tuition costs as well as transportation expenses by providing bus or light rail passes, according to Vialpando. He added that current CCA students and people who are not currently enrolled at the college will be eligible for the program.

The college is partnering with the Denver Office of Economic Development, Arapahoe/Douglas Works!, the Colorado Office of Early Childhood, WorkLife Partnership, the Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County, and Gary Community Investments to help place students in local positions, according to a press release. Children’s Hospital Colorado, University of Colorado Hospital, Burrtech Corp, and the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Association have each already agreed to consider hiring program enrollees.

“Public-private partnerships like these help us help those who need us most,” said Janel Highfill, CCA’s director of strategic partnerships.

The grant dollars will not be limited to just the eastern slice of the metro area, however, as the funds will also be available to community college students in Denver through a partnership with the Community College of Denver, according to Vialpando.

“Historically, students are going to go to the school that is most closely associated with their home, depending on which school they’re near,” he said. “We wanted to be able to cover that entire metro area.”

The three fields in which the grant will aim to place students are growing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Computer and IT jobs are expected to grow about 12 percent in the next eight years, adding about 488,500 jobs between 2014 and 2024. In the same time frame, the labor market is expected to add about 2.3 million healthcare jobs and grow by about 19 percent in that sector, according to the BLS. The average growth rate across all jobs is about 7 percent. And while the role of industrial production managers, who oversee operations at manufacturing plants, is expected to shrink in the coming years, according to the BLS, jobs for assemblers and fabricators are expected to remain relatively steady.

Vialpando said that CCA beat out other respected community colleges like Miami Dade College in Florida to earn the new grant funding, an accomplishment that could help raise the Aurora college’s national profile.

“It really begins to elevate our presence within the community,” he said. “It’s a really nice feather in our cap.”

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