Community colleges: propelling workers into STEM careers

Duval Ducey

Here’s a fact that bears repeating: One in five U.S. jobs requires knowledge of science, technology, engineering or mathematics – the STEM disciplines.

And here’s a fact that might not be so well-known: Community colleges award more than half of post-secondary STEM degrees and will play a major role in developing a career-ready workforce that can invigorate our nation’s economy.

The connection between education and the economy has informed recent visits to Pima Community College by Doug Ducey and Fred DuVal, the Republican and Democratic candidates for Arizona governor. Both men took time out of their busy schedules to learn about our Aviation Technology Center, which Inside Tucson Business has termed “one of the best-kept secrets” in Southern Arizona. Located at the western edge of Tucson International Airport, PCC’s aviation facility is the perfect place to see how we’re doing our part to train men and women for well-paying careers in one of the most vibrant sectors of Arizona’s economy.

Fred, a former member of the Arizona Board of Regents, outlined his plans for education at the Aviation Technology Center last month. Earlier this week, Doug, Arizona’s State Treasurer, toured the center and met with me and several other College administrators. Thanks to Advanced Program Manager Tom Hinman, Department Chair Eric Ross and others at the center, our aviation program is no longer secret from either of the men who hope to lead our state.

Of course, within the region’s aerospace industry, the Aviation Technology Center has a well-known stellar reputation. PCC is one of only a handful of the approximately 160 FAA-approved schools to have curriculum targeted at commercial jet transports and seems to be the only U.S. school teaching Advanced Structural Repair and Modification, a highly sought after and well-paying skill. Over the past year, more than a dozen firms with local operations have hired our students. Median salaries in the field range from $36,020 to $46,680, not including the overtime/shift differential pay that employees often accrue. It is not unusual for experienced, qualified technicians to earn close to $100,000 a year.

The Aviation Technology Center is one of the areas of the College benefiting from the state’s $600,000 allocation for STEM in 2014-15. We also are using the funding for microscopes and other science lab equipment, laptop and tablet computers for mathematics students, and anatomy and physiology models in our health-related professions courses. By improving the education of our students, PCC increases their employability, and we look forward to working with the state to develop resources in the future.

It’s no secret that Arizona’s rebound from the Great Recession has been slow. That’s especially true for Tucson, which recently was ranked 143rd out of 150 U.S. cities recovering from the economic downtown, slightly ahead of Detroit. Nearly 3,000 STEM positions were unfilled locally in the first quarter of 2013. In PCC’s Aviation Technology Program, the number of students awaiting admission exceeds capacity by 10 percent. Against this backdrop, it is important that all our constituents know what is at stake, and the vast potential PCC has as a launching pad for developing Southern Arizona’s 21st-century STEM economy.

Regardless of who is elected governor of Arizona, I am pleased that both of the major party candidates sought to learn about PCC’s aviation program and our critical role in workforce training. My hope is that the investment of time they made in PCC during the campaign will help shape their decisions once the work of governing begins early next year.

Lastly, let’s not forget that choosing Arizona’s next governor is up to us. I urge all PCC students, employees and community members to make their voices heard in the upcoming election. Doug and Fred made a point to learn about us; we should learn about them. Get to know the issues. Familiarize yourself with the candidates’ positions. Don’t miss this opportunity to make an informed choice on Nov. 4. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 6 and early voting begins three days later, on Oct. 9. More information is available from the Office of the Secretary of State and the Pima County Recorder’s Office.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s