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Del Mar College recognized among top 10 U.S. community colleges selected as finalists for Bellwether Award for Workforce Development

Continuing Education Division’s collaboration with credit programs acknowledged for stackable Marketable Skills Awards that matriculate toward certificates, degrees in high-demand career fields

Article by Melinda Eddleman

The initiative is gaining attention. Del Mar College (DMC) and its innovative Continuing Education (CE) to Credit stackable process that matriculates students’ Workforce Skills Awards earned through CE programs into aligned academic credit programs earned the College selection last fall as a finalist by the Bellwether College Consortium to compete for the Bellwether Award for Workforce Development. The  competition was held last week in San Antonio during the Community College Futures Assembly scheduled Feb. 25-27.

The Bellwether College Consortium embodies award-winning colleges charged with addressing critical issues facing community colleges through applicable research, promotion and replication of best practices concentrating on 1) workforce development, 2) instructional programs and services and 3) planning governance and finance. These three categories make up the Bellwether Award competition, which is nationally recognized for focusing on cutting-edge, trendsetting programs worthy of replication across the country.

DMC was one of 30 community colleges representing 18 states chosen to compete and one of two from Texas out of the 10 selected to vie for the Bellwether Award for Workforce Development.

DMC Showcases CE to Credit Initiative 1_Bellwether Award Competition 20

The College’s CE to Credit initiative is noted for providing all students, regardless of educational level, a post-secondary education and workforce credentials that prepare them for high-demand careers in the Coastal Bend.

DMC representatives from Continuing Education and the Architecture, Aviation and Automotive Department presented “Building Our Nation’s Workforce One Stackable Credential at a Time” on Feb. 26 as part of competition against nine other colleges representing Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina (2), Texas (San Antonio College) and Virginia.

St. Louis Community College in Missouri won the Bellwether Award for Workforce Development, and the other nine competitors received a Finalist Award. The 10 colleges were assessed on their showcase table, formal presentation and a Q&A session with judges.

Being among the top 10 [colleges in this category] speaks to the very tip of the iceberg. There was a lot of hard work underneath that iceberg by the team who created this initiative; and having the rest of the nation touting our program and trying to replicate [this work[ is a special thing.

Dr. Mark Escamilla, DMC President and Chief Executive Officer

Dr. Escamilla noted the accomplishment when the award was recognized during the regular regular DMC Board of Regents meeting on March 5.

Authors who submitted last summer the College’s nomination to the Bellwether College Consortium noted that 49% of the Coastal Bend’s population possess a high school diploma or less, and over 22% have completed some college but have not earned a degree. Additionally, 62% of Texas jobs will require at least a post-secondary education or specific workforce credentials by 2030 according to Commit Partnership (Aug. 12, 2022).

They also addressed the need to develop the CE to Credit initiative based on the comparatively high unemployment rate in the Coastal Bend in 2020. That rate was 9.3% regionally in relation to 7.2% for the state and 6.7% nationally, mostly due to the pandemic.

DMC Showcases CE to Credit Initiative 2_Bellwether Award Competition 2024

While strategies to prepare more students for the local workforce through short-term CE occupational training had already been developed as early as 2018, the guiding question was how to move CE students toward completing a post-secondary education and workforce credentials that could lead to earning Level I and Level II certificates or an associate’s degree? Even a bachelor’s degree is possible.

The goal was to prepare ALL students for the workforce … even those who need to earn their high school equivalency. The solution was creating Workforce Skills Awards or WSAs earned through CE programs aligned with pathways developed for academic programs that address high-demand needs among Coastal Bend employers.

WSAs can be earned in less than six months through CE programs and enable students to gain entry-level positions with business and industry. WSAs are also “stackable” or convertible credentials that count toward DMC credit programs, including current high-demand fields such as automotive, building maintenance, heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC), instrumentation, millwright, process technology and welding.

Since starting the CE to Credit initiative, the College has seen success and recognized over 320 WSA graduates who each completed 144 CE units or nine credit hours between 2021 and 2023 with a ceremony as well as held pinnings for those who finished health industry-related training.

Many community college CE programs across the nation are shifting more toward workforce development training. Del Mar College recognized the compelling  need to develop our innovative CE to Credit initiative to provide Coastal Bend residents greater access to post-secondary education and workforce credentialing opportunities required for the high-demand career fields supporting our region’s economy.

Dr. Leonard Rivera, Associate Vice President of Continuing Education & Off-Campus Programs

He added, “Continuing Education and our collaboration with the College’s credit programs will ensure students reach their goals one stackable credential at a time toward a degree that will take them even further during their careers.”

About Del Mar College

Del Mar College empowers students to achieve their dreams. We offer quality programs, individual attention, outstanding instruction through faculty with real-world experience and affordable costs to credit and noncredit students in Corpus Christi and the South Texas Coastal Bend area. Nationally recognized while locally focused, we’re ranked in the top two percent of community colleges in the country granting associate degrees to Hispanic students (Community College Week). Del Mar College focuses on offering our students programs that match current or emerging career opportunities. Whether students are interested in the fine arts, sciences, business, occupational or technical areas, students get the education they need for the future they want at Del Mar College.