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Community College for Career Changers

Community College for Career Changers

John Rossheim | Monster Senior Contributing Writer

Community Colleges Offer a Range of IT Certification Courses

Information technology is one area of special strength for community colleges. For the IT certifications that can give aspiring technologists a toehold, many community colleges offer unsurpassed training.

Certifications in areas like desktop PCs and networking help career changers enter the field at a substantially higher pay level. “The Geek Squad says they pay entry-level technicians without a certification $10 an hour, but those with A+ start at $16,” says Gretchen Koch, director of workforce development programs at CompTIA.

Offshoring of jobs and economic volatility notwithstanding, bread-and-butter IT jobs will continue to be created, and community colleges train thousands to fill these openings each year. “There will always be a need for help-desk professionals, computer technicians, network administrators and Microsoft specialists,” says Koch.

Industry-standard certifications are the goal of the best-focused community college IT programs. “There might be some community colleges that offer a generic networking curriculum, but those that offer industry certifications are really setting up their students to find jobs,” says Fred Weiller, a spokesman for training programs at Cisco. The networking giant provides community colleges with curricula, instructor training and networking equipment for student computer laboratories.

“At a community college, the bang for the buck is huge,” says Christopher Cugno, a senior network engineer for Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. Cugno should know: he paired education at a technical training center with courses in PERL, C, Cisco and more at Rancho Santiago Community College’s Santa Ana campus to change careers from grocery store manager. His work connecting Paramount business units around the world has earned him screen credits in films including Bee Movie and Shrek III.

Going Back to School for Mid-Career Workers

For workers who have lost hours or suffered a layoff, even the modest tuition at community colleges can be an obstacle to career change. Fortunately, help is widely available.

“We offer access to state and federal money for unemployed and underemployed students,” says Headlee. About 47 percent of community college students receive some financial aid, according to AACC.

It’s important to evaluate the quality of education offered by a specific community college before staking a career change on its programs.

“All community colleges are striving, but not all are achieving,” says Susan Stafford, author of Community College: Is It Right for You? “So you should go there and visit. Talk to people who have attended community colleges you’re interested in. Ask people in business about their experience with graduates of specific programs. Research how your community college is partnering with industry, how it’s participating in workforce development councils.”

Finally, expect a years-later return to school to pose substantial personal challenges. “To say it’s difficult is an understatement,” says Headlee. “The first step of walking in the building is difficult; so is getting into a study routine. But older students are serious about what they’re doing, so they tend to succeed.”

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