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PSC’s Spanish HVAC Pilot Program Developed in Response to Community Need

PSC’s Spanish HVAC Pilot Program Developed in Response to Community Need [1/22/2016]

By Terri L. Winfree, Ph.D.
President, Prairie State College

“See a need and fill it,” is the mantra for entrepreneurs. It also can be the mantra for community colleges and their ability to respond to education needs in the communities they serve. A great example of this concept at work is the new Bilingual Spanish Heating, Ventilation, & Air Conditioning (HVAC) program that was introduced at Prairie State College (PSC) in the fall of 2015.

The desire to respond to community needs is ingrained in how community colleges operate. Under the direction of the Illinois Public Community College Act, each of 48 Illinois community colleges has an elected board, each of whom serves a six-year term. Community colleges are a form of local government, and they pay attention to what the needs are of the residents who live in their district. This set up ensures that the college pays attention to district residents and how best to meet their educational goals.

Another important fact is that each elected trustee must reside in the district of their community college. With this local representation, the board is attuned with community needs and can guide the college to better serve district residents.

The Spanish HVAC program came about because college officials realized the Spanish population served by PSC continued to grow, but there was not a corresponding growth in the number of Hispanic students enrolled in the HVAC program.

According to Patty Zuccarello, PSC’s dean, Allied Health and Emergency Services, the enrollment of Hispanic students in HVAC continued to languish at a 1:10 ratio compared to their Caucasian counterparts. ”This is well below the 25 percent benchmark denoting traditional participation,” she said.

Feedback from a bilingual HVAC student is what sparked the course. The student knew people with limited English proficiency who were interested in the program, but didn’t feel they had the requisite English language skills to be successful. This student’s feedback resulted in the pilot Bilingual Spanish HVAC program being launched.

The program serves three primary objectives: adapt vocational instruction so that students do not have to master English before learning a trade, provide support services and job development that are geared to the special needs of limited-English proficient students, and finally, evaluate the feasibility of offering Bilingual Spanish HVAC as an Accelerated Opportunity pathway.

Zuccarello explained the program design is such that the initial group of courses are in Spanish, then the intermediate courses are bilingual, with the capstone courses being fully integrated into the English language sections.

“Given that PSC’s HVAC certificate is short in duration and also allows graduates the flexibility to be self-employed or work for larger firms, this certificate seemed to give students the most options for a quick route to employment,” Zuccarello continued.

The pilot project is funded by the student, the HVAC department budget, and the PSC Foundation. The goal is to grow the program moving forward.

The program also is connected with the business community. Hoekstra Heating and Air Conditioning, in Homewood, Ill., has provided several instructors for the classes and has already hired one of the students. According to Zuccarello, the company has said there is a great need for bilingual HVAC technicians.

“Strategically, there were only six students in the pilot cohort to ensure a ‘high touch, hands-on’ experience,” Dr. David Naze, associate dean of academic affairs said. “Early results are good with five of the students successfully completing the fall courses and enrolling for spring 2016. The sixth student decided to pursue a certificate in welding at PSC instead.”

The Spanish HVAC program was presented at the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) Forum for Excellence, and was publicly identified as a model for bridging English as a Second Language (ESL) with short-term credit workforce programs.

PSC does not plan on stopping with this program. The next step, upon successful completion of this cohort, is to move forward with Spanish Welding and possibly Spanish Automotive programs.

According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), community colleges play a role in educating half of the students enrolled in undergraduate programs across the country. Their diverse course offerings and job training opportunities, combined with open access to district residents offer a viable education opportunity, and one that is affordable.

The Spanish HVAC program is a great example of a need being identified and a program being developed to fill that need. This is just what community colleges were designed to do – respond to community needs with appropriate programming.