Dr. Paul Carlsen, president of Lakeshore Technical College, has led the school through the tumultuous time of the pandemic. As much of society shut down, the college moved swiftly to create plans to continue to educate students safely for essential roles in public health and safety as well as manufacturing.
Carlsen, the newly named secretary of New North, Inc.’s executive committee, talked with Insight about employers’ top concerns, why higher education is vital to economic development, and the school’s College Here & Now program that recently graduated its first cohort, is free to high school students and allows them to earn a college degree while in high school. Carlsen is especially proud of the stat that students who enroll at LTC and apply for financial aid report an average annual income of $19,300 at the beginning of their schooling, a figure that jumps to an average of $52,000 post-graduation.
LTC has had an eventful year. What are some of the changes afoot? LTC is constantly evolving in response to employer and community needs. This past year, we rolled out our brand-new HVAC program to help meet local demand and welcomed our first cohort of students into our new, state-of-the-art baking and culinary facility at our main campus in Cleveland. One of the great things we have in our community at LTC is partnerships with employers. As we launched our culinary and baking lab, Kohler Hospitality and Real Estate partnered with us, where each year they’re going to provide 10 students the opportunity to work at Kohler for 20 hours a week and get 100 percent tuition reimbursement. As we look forward, next school year we will be offering a digital marketing degree as well as a manufacturing engineering technology degree.
What are some of the top concerns you hear from employers? One of the biggest concerns that we’re hearing from employers in our region is the availability of skilled workers. If you think back to during this pandemic and the March time frame of last year, we saw industries across the country … just shutting down. But in the lakeshore community, many of our employers began ramping up to meet a national demand. Those companies count on us to graduate students to work at their facilities. When the Safer at Home order was issued in March, our faculty quickly migrated 700 courses from face-to-face to online. But you can’t teach everything online. We do a lot of hands-on education. One month after that Safer at Home was issued, our faculty began resuming face-to-face, hands-on instruction so we could continue to graduate students and future workers for our local employers throughout this pandemic.
From our public safety area, we graduate police officers, firefighters and EMTs. All three of those have to do their job on a daily basis whether there’s a pandemic or not. We graduate registered nurses and licensed practical nurses. It was a Lakeshore Technical College graduate who gave me both my shots of the Pfizer vaccine, so that’s something that gives you a lot of pride to be in that community.
What are you seeing from the College Here & Now program? IT professionals are in high demand across all industry sectors. What we were hearing from employers in our community was it was difficult to recruit recent IT graduates from outside the community. We decided, let’s partner with our high schools to create our own local pipeline of IT professionals. College Here & Now is an opportunity for high school students to earn an IT degree from LTC at their high school without having to drive out to our campus. Students who complete College Here & Now graduate with a college degree, from high school. They can either go straight into the workforce making up to $50,000 a year or they can transfer on to earn a computer science degree at one of the many four-year colleges in the New North region. We started with two high schools in our service region and now partner with six. We’re serving that IT need, but as an institution of higher education, we want to raise the educational attainment rate of our community. We want more people college-educated than not. What we’ve found is that College Here & Now has been attractive to some folks who didn’t think college was for them.
Your competency-based education model also is designed to offer flexibility. I like to think of it as zero-waste education. It’s an educational approach allowing students to advance through a degree based on their ability to master competencies, regardless of the passage of time. The value of CBE … is it allows students to learn at their own pace. They are not confined by the traditional structure of the fall, spring or summer semesters. They can enroll when they need to enroll and graduate when they need to graduate based on their skill levels. The value of CBE to employers in our community is they can direct incumbent workers who need upskilling to our CBE programs to learn only those competencies those employees need.
How will your learnings from the pandemic shape LTC’s future? While the pandemic has caused significant disruptions to higher education, one of the great things that we’ve experienced is that we’ve maximized student learning choices. Instead of giving students one option to learn — in person or online — we’ve now started to create multiple delivery modes so a student can choose the method by which they want to pursue their education instead of us dictating to them how they’re going to learn. That’s something we’re excited about, to continue to offer that flexibility and those options to students.