Hispanic-Serving Institutions Win Grants To Spur Economic Growth

Colleges will receive much-needed funds from a Labor Department program, which works closely with businesses to fill work force gaps.

For some Hispanic-serving institutions, the key to winning grants at the federal level is building strong local relationships that foster partnerships and “out-ofthe- box” thinking about new and innovative services.

The trend is evident at seven HSIs that just won grants of $500,000 to $2 million from the U.S. Department of Labor for expanded work force development efforts. These community colleges are among several dozen new winners of Community-Based Job Training Grants designed to spur employment and local economic growth.

“It’s very difficult for a small company to send these people 40 miles to our college,” says John Vukich, business and industry work force training manager at Pueblo Community College in Pueblo, Colo., which won a $1.9 million grant. “With a mobile lab, we can bring it right to a remote site.”

The college currently offers a mobile learning lab to teach welding to six students at a time. The new grant would broaden that effort with three more mobile labs focused on mechanical, electrical and manufacturing systems.

“We’re very engaged with the business community. We participate in business roundtables, and we know they often can’t find enough skilled workers,” he says. “This helps us stay focused.”

The grant will support new associate degree programs as well as shorter-term, specific training, Vukich tells Diverse. A flexible competency-based program model will allow students to work toward various certifications as well as degrees.

Established relationships with business leaders helped drive the grant development process.

“You want to do the right thing for your community,” he says.

South Plains College also is pushing new strategies, in this case for health care. With a $1.6 million grant, the Levelland, Texas, school will develop a clinical simulation center where health care professionals can receive real-world training for the field.

“This represents a new way of preparing students to excel in the clinical areas,” says Marla Cottenoir, dean of health occupations at the college. Currently, she says, “There are not abundant opportunities for students to get clinical experience.” The college currently trains health care workers for a 15-county area of west Texas.

The simulation center is “on the cutting edge of health care training,” adds Dr. Kelvin Sharp, president of South Plains College. It is one part of a planned Center for Clinical Excellence for students in vocational nursing and associate degree nursing programs.

Working with potential nursing students — from middle school onward — is the focus of a $1.9 million grant for another HSI, Doña Ana Community College in Las Cruces, N.M.

“There’s a nursing shortage here and across the country,” Dr. Margie Huerta, president of Doña Ana, tells Diverse. Outreach to middle and high school students can lead to dual enrollment programs in which a student can graduate high school with certification to serve as a nursing assistant. But the hope is that these students will go on to get at least an associate degree in the field.

“We’re trying to hook them into nursing and patient care,” she says. About onefourth of all students are at or near the poverty level. “Many wouldn’t even think about going to college.”

Huerta credited the winning proposal to long-established community and business relationships. As college president, she is on the board of a local hospital and communicates frequently with area employers.

“Nothing takes the place of having relationships with people,” she says. Such relationships allow a college to develop a vision for the community. “You have to partner in a real way with groups in your community,” she adds.

Other HSIs receiving new grants under this Labor Department program include:

• East Los Angeles College, $1.7 million, for health care;
•West Los Angeles College, $2 million, for movie and television production;
• Union County College, Cranford, N.J., $1.9 million, for health care;
• New Mexico State University-Carlsbad, $500,000 for construction trades; and
• Suffolk County Community College, Selden, N.Y., $1.6 million for advanced manufacturing.

Overall, 69 community colleges and community- based organizations in 36 states won grants under the Labor Department program. More than 340 applicants sought funding. The latest round of awards is the third for the initiative; the first were made in October 2005.

More information about the Community- Based Job Training Grants program is online at www.doleta.gov.

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