On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, guest host Shauna Cox was joined by Chris Winstead to discuss the importance of developing meaningful credentials, and how Maine has been able to create strong partnerships to do this, across their system.
Voiceover (00:06): Welcome to Illumination by Modern Campus, the leading podcast focus on transformation and change in the higher education space. On today’s episode, we speak with Chris Winstead, who is Deputy Executive Director of Workforce Training at Maine Community College System. Chris and podcast guest-host Shauna Cox discuss the importance of developing meaningful credentials, and how Maine has been able to create strong partnerships to do this, across their system.
Shauna Cox (00:39): Chris, thank you so much for joining me on the Illumination podcast, it’s great to have you here.
Chris Winstead (00:44): Thank you for the invite. Very happy to be here and have a wonderful conversation today. Yes,
Shauna Cox (00:44): Absolutely. So we're just gonna start off at the top. Why is it important for higher ed leaders to focus on short-term training offerings, especially today?
Chris Winstead (00:54): So I think when a lot of people hear higher ed, they automatically are drawn towards an associate and a bachelor's degree. And the benefit of short term trainings is they offer pathways for folks into advanced credentials. But the short term trainings are often tied to certifications and credentials that allow people to get into the workforce today so that they can immediately start to help improve the economic status of their family with a lead back into an associate or a bachelor's program or beyond. So if I have that immediate need for being able to support my family or provide for myself, I can take that short-term training with my eye on a long-term degree and slowly work towards that. Mm-Hmm.
Shauna Cox (01:42): Absolutely. And you know, obviously this is very important to implement at the institution, but it's also often easier said than done. So what are some of the challenges that come with creating and scaling those short-term credentials? Not just in one unit, but like across the institution?
Chris Winstead (02:01): So I think, you know, we, we are very fortunate with the main community college system that our seven campuses have a workforce dean or director of workforce on each of the campuses, and they work pretty closely with their counterparts on the academic side of the house. So an academic dean or a a vice president, for example, what we do really well with is when we have programs that the curriculum committees have had a chance to be engaged with, is typically where you'll see the direct pathway from a short-term training into a long-term, either a degree program, a one year certificate program, or a degree program. I think the challenges that we see are the same across all aspects of higher ed, whether it's short-term or academic programs, really is access to qualified instructors and to your subject matter experts. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, you know, so when we talk about healthcare, for example, there's a huge need for, for folks to have training in healthcare.
(02:58): And of the challenges that we find is being able to access nurse educators for programs like CNAs, medical assisting RN programs, because in, in the current environment, one of two things that's happening, either people are just burned out. So normally you would have folks that they would work their normal shift at a hospital and they would then jump into teaching. And what we found is as a result of the pandemic, people are just hired. Right. Or conversely, higher ed can't compete with the rates of pay for those individuals who can earn more in the field. And that goes beyond just healthcare. The same with trying to get an electrician to come in and teach a electrical program. You know, they can make a lot more out in the field doing their current scope of work mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. so being able to get them to come in and serve as those faculty roles you know, you get the people who are very passionate about programs.
(03:51): So I think, you know, the first challenge is definitely access to instructors. The second challenge with scaling the short-term credentials, I really think is the ability to fill cohorts. And what we see, and, and we're very fortunate with our college partners is that as these programs are built out, because our workforce teams at each of the campuses have direct connections to industry partners mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, they have the ability to really listen to what the needs are and develop programs that are meaningful and informed by those partnerships with individuals in industry. So our colleges quite often find that their programs fill and it's because you have multi referrals into those programs. The areas where we see challenges when they don't fill is usually directly tied to the length of a program or the perceived complexity of a program where I might be an adult learner who's trying to get into the healthcare field, and all of a sudden I'm looking at a program that may be daunting based off of one or two specific classes in that, in that credential.
Shauna Cox (05:05): Absolutely. And I kind of wanna dive into the work that the main community college system has been doing. So how has the system been able to scale these offerings and build those partnerships with the communities? And then I'm also kind of curious now about how, you know, these programs that may seem daunting to students, like how is that being marketed to them? Or like, are you internally shifting them? Like, how is that working?
Chris Winstead (05:35): Let's start with that one, because that's a really fun topic to talk about. <Laugh>. So I'm gonna use medical assisting as an example. Okay. So if I'm an adult learner, I'm going back to school. Let's say that the last time I, I'll use myself as an example, right? So I graduated high school in 1995. Mm. Right? So we are almost 30 years post high school. And let's say that I wanted to make a career change and become a medical right. Jumping into that program, some of those core classes I'm probably gonna very much enjoy and find as they're, they're part of that curriculum. Now, let's say I get to an anatomy and physiology class, which is one of the first classes I'm gonna take, that's a challenging course for a lot of our adult learners, right? Because again, I graduated 30 years ago, I haven't taken a science class for 30 years, right?
(06:20): Safe assumption. I, I took some in college, but I haven't, you know, it's been a while mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. what we're finding is we need to, so short term programs, by the nature of, of their title and their design tend to be smaller scale than the length of time that it takes to jump into that program, right? So it could be a week long program, or it could be a 12 to 14 month program. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, when you look at some of those longer programs like a medical assisting, what you do is you look at ways to deliver that class that maybe you're not creating as heavy a load of coursework with that one class. So instead of normally seeing maybe three or four classes, you're only doing two classes or only putting that student in two classes so that they're able to kind of walk through it.
(07:07): What our colleges have also done is we've embedded navigators in each of those programs that are there to help and advise students. So kind of very similar to the advising model that you have on the academic side of the house, but those navigators, so for example, with the medical assisting, if they have a group of students that are jumping into that program, which we do based off of a cohort, right? They have a cohort of 12 students in that program, you know, those navigators get to know each of those 12 students. And let's say that they've identified that Chris is having a challenge with this anatomy and physiology, they're gonna help me find those resources to be able to stay in that program and complete that program. Right? Let's say that some of those resources are not nece that are needed, or not necessarily academic challenges, but let's say it's life challenges, right?
(07:55): That I have a problem with daycare for my kiddo, or I have a problem with transportation to class. Those navigators are then connecting those students with the wraparound services that are out there. So in the state of Maine, like if it's the HOPE program, the Higher Opportunities Pathway program, or it's one of our, WE partners, they're closing that loop for the students so that they can ac get AC gain access to the resources that allow them to stay in those programs. The same vein, we've also, through some private foundational funding that we have, some of these high need programs that are longer programs, we've been able to attach stipends to them so that folks who are jumping into them because they're stepping out of the workforce, you know, a lot of us are not in a position where we could easily stop working and just go back to school mm-hmm.
(08:45): Like, and that's, that's a straight statement, a statement across the board. There are very few people who are sitting there with enough cash reserves to be able to stop working for a period of time to and pay to go to school. So, you know, we obviously have funding that's out there to cover the programs, whether it's through main jobs and recovery plan, or through the Herald Aon foundational funding or other private philanthropy. These stipends are then there to say, okay, Chris, you're going into that medical assisting program. We know that that's a nine month program. Here's what we've determined is a stipend that we can, we can tie to this program to kind of help you through that or an earn and learn model where you're working directly with employers who are saying, okay, we'll pay Chris as a full-time employee to go through this training.
(09:31): We know that, you know, 40 hours a week is what we're gonna pay him for mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, he's realistically gonna spend 24 hours a week studying and homework, and then we'll have him work the other 16. And that's how we get to that full term or, or full-time employment piece. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So I think, you know, when you look at those students finding ways to help mitigate the different challenges, whether it's academic and you're connecting them with you know, a tutor or English as a second language, something along those lines, or the life impacting aspect of it, and then being able to connect them with those re those different resources. So I think, you know, working through that piece and helping the students through their program increases completion rates. It also ensures that in that scenario, when Chris is taking the, the medical assistant course, you know, if, if all of a sudden I started to face challenges and I feel like it's just, it's too much, right?
(10:25): Then you, you and I both know that it's gonna be a challenge for that student to jump back into another program, right? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, because all of a sudden I now have a bit of trauma that's attached to educational learning as an adult learner, where if I haven't mitigated that, I'm probably not gonna jump back in mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And in a lot of cases, and, and I, I, I'm not as well versed on this, but we've all seen the data that for a lot of adult learners who have some level of college mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, but haven't completed, one of two things happened either life and I think the expression of life gotten got in the way while we were busy making plans. Right? Or I had some level of inter some level of impact while I was in college that all of a sudden I didn't feel like I could complete it. So how do I change that moving forward? Right? How do we make those adult learners feel comfortable jumping back into the classroom? So I think that that kind of, that talks a little bit about to how we help those students through. And then I think you were, you were asking specifically, so what are those challenges that colleges often see in the pathway design from getting it from like thought process to creation, correct? Mm-Hmm.
Shauna Cox (11:40): Yeah. It's more of, you know, how are they able to take those offerings and scale them and making sure that they have those partnerships with the industry. So kind of the other end of that, of making sure the industry's also prepared for what is being created.
Chris Winstead (11:58): So I think what we've seen in Maine so for example, the main jobs and recovery plan funding that we have that we are using for short term workforce training, that's to impact the lives of 8,500 Mainers across the state, seven industry sectors, healthcare, manufacturing, the green economy, education computer sciences, the trades and hospitality, right? These are all industries that have been impacted by covid or have seen general decline in the number of train and skilled workforce members over the last 10 to 20 years in the state. Right? And a lot of these are our key foundational industries in the state. So healthcare, for example, which is one of our largest employers in the state we know that the trainings that we're offering are through conversations with industry and also through using data. We know that these trainings that we're offering are designed to fill positions that otherwise would be vacant.
(12:59): So when we look at the 10 year trends and economic forecasts in the specific industry sector, we know that what we're building, our colleges are building our trainings will fill those needs. So very rarely do we see where it's something that, where we're identifying, oh, wow, this is an amazing new technology that we need to be training on. Right? In those cases, it's usually a conversation with industry that's saying, Hey, you know what? We should be looking at sterile processing. We should be looking at advanced manufacturing. We should be looking at solar install, for example, some of these newer technologies that are, you know, creating economic opportunities for folks. And we know that we need a significant number of employees in these sectors. So I think we're really fortunate that the sweet spot for our colleges have always been their connections with their advisory committees mm-hmm.
(13:50): that have industry industry representation. And, and I always like to say, when I was at the college, they kept me honest mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, right? They're the ones who I'm having a conversation with saying, Hey, we really need another 40 electricians in the region that need to be trained. How can we create a new program that gets that done in a shorter amount of time, but meets all of the criteria for licensing and certifications mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And that's really how that conversation happens between a lot of our colleges and their industry partners. And it's also unique because each of our campuses, depending on accreditation, like medical assisting for example, that program looks very different on a multitude of our campuses based on who they have their accreditation through, or if they're working with one of the specific national partners or a more localized one. So, you know, at the same rate, we may have a medical assisting program that's running on one campus that's a year long program on another campus. It could be a nine month program, and they both might be a little bit different mm-hmm. <Affirmative> depending on who the accreditations are.
Shauna Cox (14:57): And so when it comes to pathways, they kind of lend themselves to more of the non-credit side of things. You know, so often the non-credit divisions are more in tuned with the industry and have those strong partnerships. So what are some best practices to kind of help bridge the gap between the academic side of an institution and then the industry?
Chris Winstead (15:25): So what's interesting with that is for the main community college system, we actually, the conversations around guided pathways started on the academic side of the house.
Shauna Cox (15:34): Oh, interesting.
Chris Winstead (15:35): And yeah, no, and, and what I would say is right now with our main jobs and recovery plan funding I'm gonna safely say 93% of all of our, our short term trainings have either a credit component to them mm-hmm. <Affirmative> or direct rate, direct pathways back into credit-based programs. So for example, medical assisting that we talked about. Right. It's an easy one to kind of grab and chat about mm-hmm. <Affirmative> because it's one that demonstrates what a program could be. So at Eastern Maine Community College, we have a nine month medical assisting program that puts people through a high level of coursework that gets them the certification that they need so that they can go to work in healthcare. That nine month program has a direct lead back to the one year certificate program. So they go back in for, I think it's two classes, and then they find themselves being able to complete that one year certificate, and then they go back for an additional five classes, I think it's five classes, and they end up with that two year associate's degree in medical assistant.
(16:38): What's great about that is we use the funding to get a student in. They do that first nine month program. Now they're working at a hospital. The hospital is gonna pick up the cost of that one year certificate and that two year associate's degree in, in a lot of cases. So I can use my professional development when I'm working at Northern Light, for example, and be able to complete that program, which means I, as a student, walk out with little to no debt for that program. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Because that short term training that we have has credit classes and I earn credits for it while I'm in it. And I'm basically, at that point, I'm a non-matriculated student. Mm-Hmm. When I make that transition, now I can bring all of those credits directly into that one year certificate or two year associate's degree for programs that are traditionally non-credit.
(17:30): We will use prior learning assessment or alternative credit to bring them in so that the trainees and the students gain credit for those programs. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. But like I said, in our case, we're very fortunate that I want to say about 93% of our programs with main jobs in recovery all have a direct lead into a pathway. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> you know, some of the ones that don't are the programs that traditionally you will not, you haven't seen a connection like cdl for example, it's really hard to tie a CDL program back to a degree program minus maybe diesel mechanic if it's a component of it, right? But very different skills that you're looking at. One is working on those trucks, the other is operating those trucks. You know, but all of our programs we have, you know, welding programs that have direct leads back into degree programs, electrical programs, so they can come in and do a one year full-time electrical program that will have a lead back in if they want to go back for additional credentials.
(18:34): Medical assisting, surgical tech, respiratory therapy. There are all of these different options that have pathways. So for us, you know, it was actually, I think a really good meshing of both the non-credit and the credit side of the house. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And it's, it's interesting. Sometimes you'll hear people say, blur the line, our goal is to really remove the line. Right. Because you want students to be able to come in, you want them to be able to access that short term, and you want it to be able to point to something. Right. And it's not just a, this is, you know, very transactional. Chris, if you walk in and you take this training, it's transactional. No, we want this to be transformative. The only way for it to be transformative is to have that pathway towards a degree program mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, and it aligns, and I will say it aligns with the state's economic priorities of increasing the number of individuals with a credential of higher value by 2025.
(19:26): Cause that's something we as a state have been, you know, fighting and working towards for quite some time now. And it's because I think everyone, everyone realizes the value in having that increased credential mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And when you start to look at some of those and say, okay, so what's the stackability? So if Chris wants to do something different, how do we honor what he's learned? Right. And how do we use that towards other pathways? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So, you know, another prime example and, and one that I, I think is kind of a great opportunity for people to focus on is cna, right? Certified nursing assistant. That's an entry level job. And typically the pay with CNAs and the work is not all that, you know, not all that great. Right? It's, it's very manual. It's you know, a lot of people get into those roles and they're not quite sure where they go.
(20:17): One of our campuses built a CNA to LPN pathway. So they take folks who have worked as CNAs, take that training, build off of it, and get them to the level of a certification as an lpn. The next step from that would be building out a pathway that's an LPN to an rn, right? So you're saying little chunks, I can come in and take this in little chunks, be working, get the experience that I need, be more comfortable, jump into that next level, be more comfortable, jump into that final level mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. so I think that that's kind of where we've had those areas of opportunities.
Shauna Cox (20:53): There's a real seamlessness between the non-credit and credit side, which I think is so important, especially nowadays with lifelong learners. You know, people aren't just coming in learning what they need to know and leaving, they're coming back to, you know, those entries and exits are so important. And so what kind of impact does that seamless collaboration that you have, integration even not only on the institution, but also its community.
Chris Winstead (21:21): So I think you know, what it, what it's demonstrating is our commitment. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> our commitment to really listen to what the needs are and to be able to deliver the training that's meaningful to residents of the state of Maine and individuals who jump into our programs. So right now, all of our funding is designed to support new Mainers and Maine residents. Mm-Hmm. Right. The, the free short-term funding, same thing with the free community college. It's for main state residents, and that's why I wanna kind of preface that. Mm-Hmm. <laugh> all of those programs have been informed by the connections with our C communities mm-hmm. And our community partners. So you really start to, you know, whether it's a Dean of workforce at Southern Main Community College or the Dean of Workforce at Washington County Community College you know, they both know what's needed in their local communities from a short term training standpoint.
(22:15): So they're able to build those programs. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, what we see through data data analysis and decision making that really is geared towards what the community needs are, is, you know, you're not standing up a program that all of a sudden you're not seeing it be filled. Right. When you do stand up a program and for some reason you see that it's not filled, it's like, okay, did we miss the mark on this one? Right? Mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And usually what it is, is, okay, we need to target a little bit better with our advertising. We need to explain the complexity or the lack of complexity with the program, right. So that people can see themselves in it. So I think when you start to look at that collaboration and that connection, the community wins mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, right? Because they're seeing a direct response to the training needs that are identified.
(23:02): I will say it's not without its pain points. So, you know, the deep level of integration and collaboration that's there, we still have our moments where we hit those roadblocks, but what's nice is both parties step back for a second and say, okay, how do we fix this? Like, let's get to Yes. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, right? How do we help these students? Is it that we, we on the workforce side need to engage our academic partners at the very beginning of an idea? Or is it that we're reaching out halfway through? Right. We'll step back and a lot of, when I was at Easter Main community college, when I built out those programs, it wasn't Chris Win building out those programs. It was me going to our faculty and saying, I have a need. It's been identified. How could you respond to this? Is there a way to repackage some of your classes to get someone a credential that they can immediately go to work mm-hmm.
(23:53): Is there a different model that we can use to be able to deliver, to be meaningful for those individuals? So I think, you know, when you look at, when you look at that large impact, I think what we all have to be able to agree is that the current nine to five model of higher education doesn't work for adult learners. You have to be able to meet them where they are. That includes evenings and weekends. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, right? You have to be able to use online and hybrid technology to be able to deliver this coursework so that folks can do it at their own pace. You have to be able to work with your academic partners to create those pathways. And you have to be willing to have an honest and hard conversation sometimes. But if the academic partners come back and say, Hey, this program could meet all of our marks, but it's missing these two learning objectives, we on the workforce have to be able to say, okay, what does that look like?
(24:48): How do we adjust these so that we have that pathway? And then you hit the nail on the head when you talked about lifelong learning, right? We want the opportunity that we can jump in and study these different courses and earn these different certifications. It, at any point, if my job changes tomorrow mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, I need to be able to adapt. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Right? And that's the wonderful thing about where higher ed right now is with micro-credentials and with these pathways are what can Chris jump into? That's a certification that he'll be able to use in his region or remotely to put him in position for a new pos, you know, a new job or a new opportunity for growth within his organization.
Shauna Cox (25:28): Absolutely. Well, Chris, that's everything I have for you. And we came up on time, you know, that was great. But I am gonna throw in one little question, just kinda throwing you a curve ball. And I know that you said that you're in two different cities within Maine, so you can choose either or, but what is your favorite restaurant, or which one do you recommend to someone visiting your, you know, local town?
Chris Winstead (25:56): Not a curve ball. I'm a foodie. So I'm going to say, I'm gonna pick Bangor. Okay. And my, my go-to for amazing food is Timber in Bangor. It's one of my favorite restaurants. Great menu can have a little bit of everything, whether you want it to come out of the ocean from the air or from, you know, walking in a field. You get that option of protein choices. But their food and desserts are just a killer.
Shauna Cox (26:25): Amazing. Awesome. All right. Thank you so much, Chris, for joining us today. It was great having you.
Chris Winstead (26:31): No, thank you very much.
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