Southeast Community College is expanding several programs this year to allow students to earn degrees covering topics that previously were considered focus areas.
Previously, earning a degree in computer information technology wouldn't necessarily show a graduate's proficiency in a focus area, like cybersecurity.
But beginning this year, SCC students will be able to earn an associate of applied science degree (AAS) in each of the four focus areas in the computer information technology program:cybersecurity, computer support, network management and application programming.
It's part of an expansion to several academic offerings for the 2022-23 academic year, said Joel Michaelis, vice president for instruction. In addition to computer technology, other expansions are in the areas of plumbing, heating and air conditioning technology as well as concrete construction.
"We were getting students out with an AAS, which is great," Michaelis said. "But then they would have to go and show employers their transcript so they would know if their focus was in cybersecurity or programming."
Discussions with industry partners — "workforce leadership teams" where employers are invited to come to SCC and share their needs — led to the changes in several areas.
Those workforce teams articulated what they are looking for in an employee, Michaelis said, while students also expressed what skills they believed would make them more qualified to be hired in those positions.
"In education, those wheels tend to turn slowly, so we try to speed that up as much as possible," he said.
Caleb Herwick, the dean of construction, manufacturing, engineering and technology at SCC, saidsplitting one degree program into four will also provide students with a clearer roadmap to pursue multiple degrees.
And by offering classes in a variety of times and modalities — in-person during the day, for example, or online in the evening — Herwick said SCC is trying to give students more flexibility in how they pursue an education.
"We want students to be able to manage their classes with their life and work responsibilities," he said. "So they have that pathway that show them where they are starting and what they need to take every year to finish."
Herwick said the expansion from one degree into four comes as there is greater demand from employers and future employees for technology training, even among high school students attending the Career Academy.
More than 80 students ages 15-19 were enrolled in computer information technician courses last year; while 167 students are aged 20-24; 113 aged 25-29; and 122 students are 30 years old and above, Herwick said.
SCC will also become the first community college in Nebraska to offer a geographic information systems technician degree. The online offering is also one of the first of its kind in the country.
The college previously offered the program as a certificate, which required students to complete 16 to 18 credit hours.
Surveying students and industry leaders, Katrina Patton, an instructor in the program, learned there was "an AAS worth of material" those stakeholders felt would be valuable for SCC to offer, and the program extended to roughly 60 credit hours, Herwick said.
Students will now be able to take classes teaching skills around database management and programming web applications en route to a two-year degree.
The expansion in technology programs comes as SCC is planning a $42.7 million tower focused on technology education at its Lincoln campus.
The Sandhills Global Technology Center is expected to help address Nebraska's growing technology workforce, which is anticipated to expand by 11% by 2028.
Herwick said the new facility, which could break ground early next year, will help SCC accommodate more students, and will give those future technicians the opportunity to interface directly with the companies that will hire them.
Michaelis said the technology tower will make SCC even more responsive to the needs of industry, and allow for more associate's degree programs to be offered.
"We're always looking to expand and offer different things," he said.
In addition to expanding its technology programs, SCC is also offering new certificate programs in global studies, bookkeeping, peer support and baking.
The Interprofessional Education Day at SCC wasn't so much about giving students another avenue to practice their skills, but a chance to work across disciplines, communicate and solve problems on the fly.