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Helping Employers Help Themselves: LCCC Scores for Adult Learners with Workforce Funding Assists

Adult learners are quickly becoming the target demographic for community colleges seeking enrollment and a workforce in dire need of skilled workers. 

Adult learning is ingrained in the culture at Lorain County Community College (LCCC), located about 16 miles west of Cleveland. Serving adult learners is a pillar of Vision 2025, the college’s strategic roadmap. As the CAEL community sees time and again, supporting adult learners means supporting the workforce and the broader community, so it’s no surprise that LCCC has long been prioritizing credentials that prepare working-aged adults for good careers. Key to that has been embedding experiential learning into programs and engaging workforce and employer partners to create agile upskilling opportunities for workers.

Helping workers keep pace with a changing economy is something the college has prioritized well before it adopted Vision 2025 in 2019. But formulating that forward-looking strategy offered an opportunity to build on the college’s strong adult learning foundation. A CAEL member, LCCC completed our Adult Learner 360 diagnostic process to help assess challenges and opportunities as it prepared to pursue a U.S. Department of Education Title III grant directed at adult learners. The Adult Learner 360 survey process allowed the college to hear directly from adult learners about how effective LCCC was in meeting their needs. 

While the overall results were unsurprisingly positive, their feedback identified areas where the college could make enhancements. Adult learners wanted more career and labor market information, including salary forecasts. They also prioritized information about financial aid and scholarship opportunities and stressed the value of receiving it proactively. Flexible program delivery, as always, was also important to accommodating adult learners’ already complicated schedules. 

Armed with the survey information, LCCC crafted an application centered on flexible and accelerated program formats with integrated work-based learning to attract adult learners and meet growth-industry talent demands. In 2018, LCCC was awarded a five-year grant of $2.1 million to expand adult students’ access to academic programs and help them complete their education. LCCC has included 10 programs within the grant’s scope. Enhancements include a 15-month associate degree model, all-online formats and competency-based education options. 

But the most compelling aspect of LCCC’s recent work with adult learners has been building on the strong bonds it forms with employers. For example, its associate of applied science in mechatronics technology–micro electromechanical systems (MEMS) teaches students how to make printed circuit boards within a cleanroom environment. LCCC had heard from area businesses that existing two- and four-year programs were not meeting specialized workforce demands in this sought-after specialty. LCCC brought them in as partners to design the MEMS degree. The result was a program that would become the first to join the college’s Train Ohio model. Train Ohio’s goals include:

  • Filling the talent pipeline for small and medium businesses.
  • Decreasing education-related student debt.
  • Increasing enrollment in and completion of programs tied to in-demand careers.
  • Increasing interest in advanced manufacturing as a career.

Marketed as an earn-and-learn program, Train Ohio places students in a paid internship with a sponsoring company three days per week. The interns are enrolled as full-time LCCC students and take classes twice weekly. At work, they perform tasks that also meet the learning outcomes expected of the program. At the college, faculty and staff serve as liaisons between the employer and students. Throughout, they ensure that site work and coursework remain closely knit, whether students are pursuing a certificate or a degree. 

Thanks to the inclusion of stackable credentials, that’s not an either-or choice. Certificates, which are tied to workforce advancement in their own right, stack toward an associate degree and, in the case of MEMS, a bachelor of applied science. In addition to MEMS, Train Ohio specializations include automation, cybersecurity, software development and computer-aided machining. More, including digital fabrication, are planned. 

The synergies of integrating academic and professional experiences are clear to see in the many student success stories that have emerged from Train Ohio, which is only in its third year. For example, one student began as an intern with a participating company in the second year of her degree. When she completed her associate of applied science in automation engineering technologies in May last year, she received a pay raise. She has continued working with the company part time while she pursues a bachelor’s degree. Students who complete the associate degree typically earn a starting wage of about $42,000 per year, with opportunities within a few years to get promoted to positions that command six-figure salaries. 

All told, LCCC has forged partnerships with more than 130 employers under Train Ohio. It has placed more than 140 students in jobs, boasting a 100% job-placement rate within MEMS, by far the largest Train Ohio program. 

Beyond such conspicuous educator-employer collaboration, LCCC offers support in a less glamorous but indispensable area. Most employers don’t have the time or expertise to keep pace with the complex and ever-changing world of workforce funding. In some cases, those grants must be pursued by an employer, not an educator. That creates another place where postsecondary institutions can add value for employer partners. Experts in all types of funding, LCCC’s workforce team helps employers identify viable sources of funding that can address their workforce needs and walks them through intricate administrative processes. 

For example, Ohio’s TechCred program helps subsidize education benefits employers provide for in-demand certifications to upskill their workforce, including current employees and incoming hires. TechCred focuses on short-term, technical training. Employers who are accepted into the program receive up to $2,000 per employee toward their educational costs, including tuition, textbooks, lab fees and other expenses. LCCC helps get the word out about TechCred grants through a newsletter and other forms of communication it maintains with employers in the region. 

The program offers welcome support to adult learners at the critical nexus between learning and work, but employers are well advised to be meticulous in their applications. They are not awarded on a first come, first served basis but rather are assessed via a scoring system that weighs committed wage increases vs. credential costs, the amount of regional economic distress and grants awarded, and how much the employer will contribute toward credential costs. Application windows are open for limited times, so being proactive is still important to successfully join the funnel of entrants– partnership with LCCC can go a long way in ensuring they are. LCCC offers workshops and one-on-one advising to help employers ascertain grant specifications and their eligibility prospects. This goes not only for the TechCred program but for any available federal, state and local incumbent worker training funds. 

LCCC has partnered with employers to deliver grant-funded training at the worksite, online at the employee’s own pace, with the LCCC main campus or one of its outreach centers or as an earn-and-learn model like the aforementioned internship programs. Although the setting may change, the starring role remains adult learners. Score that as a success for education, employment and economic prosperity.

It’s a pleasure for me to write about the great work CAEL institutional members like Lorain County Community College are doing for adult learners. You can learn more about the good work the CAEL community is doing to support the journey of lifelong learning and access to rewarding work at our many membership and other events. Interested in sharing your own adult learning success story? Contact

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