ACC to Design Innovative Learning Models with $4.5 Million in Department of Labor Grant Funds

The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded Austin Community College more than $4.5 million in funding in its most recent, highly competitive grant program for colleges and universities. ACC is a partner institution in three grants – half of the grants awarded in Texas. The college will use the funds to formulate innovative learning models in the fields of computer programming, biotechnology, and biology.

ACC will implement the computer programming grant in partnership with Western Governors University (WGU) Texas to introduce competency-based coursework. Competency-based learning allows students to move through coursework at a more individualized pace – potentially dramatically reducing the time to completion. | Read more in The Texas Tribune

“This will revolutionize the way we are providing instruction in the fast-growing information technology sector,” says Dr. Richard Rhodes, ACC president/CEO. “When students are willing to do the work, it is up to us to create affordable, accessible pathways that allow them to achieve marketable credentials and get into the workforce as quickly as possible. That’s exactly what this grant will allow us to do.”

ACC’s program will offer supportive online, on campus, and blended-format classes and services. Students will be able to earn certificates, associate degrees, and industry certifications by demonstrating knowledge and skills needed by employers. In this model, prior IT knowledge gained in the workplace or while serving in the military can be leveraged to reduce the cost and speed up the process of earning industry-recognized credentials and moving into high-demand jobs. According to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, 28 percent of available jobs in Central Texas are in the technology sector, primarily in programming, network, and database fields.

“Programmers and other tech professionals are in high demand right now – so ACC and WGU Texas are doing exactly what Central Texas needs,” says Drew Scheberle, senior vice president of education and talent development for the Austin Chamber. “By moving more qualified workers into jobs faster, we will be growing a talent pool that makes Austin more attractive to tech companies.”

Through the grant partnership, ACC will receive more than $2 million to develop curriculum for 24 programming courses over three years. The college’s grant partners, Sinclair Community College in Ohio and Broward College in Florida, will develop similar curriculum for other IT areas; that curriculum will then be shared and used by students at all three institutions.

ACC and its partner colleges will work with WGU to adopt and adapt its competency-based learning model at the community college level.

“ACC is one of WGU Texas’ important partners, and we look forward to bringing proven competency-based learning strategies to the table,” says Dr. Mark David Milliron, chancellor of WGU Texas. “This is all about giving students more tools to succeed on a faster timeline. They will also have the opportunity to seamlessly transfer their work at ACC to WGU Texas to continue toward a bachelor’s degree and beyond.”

Curriculum development begins right away; students may be able to enroll in the competency-based programming coursework at ACC as early as fall 2013. Those seeking to earn an associate degree may enroll at ACC immediately to work on required core curriculum courses, in order to progress more quickly.

“This innovative partnership expands the pool of talented Texans graduating college with credentials in high-demand science, technology, engineering, and math fields,” says Andres Alcantar, chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission. “I commend ACC and WGU for this partnership.”

ACC is increasing efforts to secure grant funding to meet the goals of expanding community and education partnerships, developing individualized and accelerated learning pathways, and improving student success.

The biotechnology and biology Department of Labor grant programs are also in development and will expand opportunities for students in those fields. ACC will receive approximately $2 million for the biology program grant and $446,683 for the biotechnology program grant.

Stay tuned for more details about opportunities for students.

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