Montgomery Business Journal

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Mark Heinrich MBJ

Summer 2016

Mark Heinrich is Chancellor of the Alabama Community College System. He was recently interviewed by the Montgomery Business Journal’s David Zaslawsky.

Montgomery Business Journal: What are your responsibilities as chancellor of the Alabama Community College System?  Heinrich: I am the CEO over the entire Alabama Community College System. I am responsible for the operation of the 26 community colleges within the system; the budgeting; programming – everything that goes with that. All the governmental affairs.

What is the annual operating budget?  We run about $350 million from the Legislature. That’s about 46 percent of what it takes to operate the system. The rest of the dollars come from tuition, grants, other fees. We’re not real heavily tuition-driven. We’re $117 a credit hour so we depend on a lot of other kinds of things like grant money, federal money.

Wouldn’t credit hours be more than $300 at a four-year college or university? It’s over $300 – between $300 and $600 depending on where you’re going.

Are there actually 26 community colleges or does that also include centers?  There are actually 26 community colleges and we have 89 instructional sites that are connected to one of our community colleges. The (community college) may have centers or satellite sites in neighboring communities.

We are constantly hearing about a skills gap. What is the organization doing to bridge that skills gap?  It’s certainly a national issue. Our labor pool demands that about 60 percent be in this middle skills (segment). I would say $40,000 to $80,000 a year (salaries). We are probably addressing 47 percent of that 60 percent (skills gap). That’s still a big gap – a huge gap.

How many people does that 13 percent difference represent? We are probably talking about between 20,000 and 30,000 jobs. It’s a lot of jobs. I was in South Alabama recently and I ask the question wherever I go, ‘Let’s assume that I have a room next door and in that room I have an infinite number of well-trained middle skills workers. How many would you hire today?’ Invariably they’ll say, “We could hire 6,000 today for this part of our state. It’s substantial.”

What are you doing to address that?  There are a couple of things that are beginning to make a difference. We certainly are not there yet. One of the things that the Legislature did a couple of years ago for us and we’re beginning to see some results is that they provided for us initially a little over $5 million for career tech dual enrollment. What that means is that we are able to (give) scholarships to those (high school) students particularly in career tech areas and no other areas because of the need.

How has the program progressed?  That was so successful the first year that the Legislature actually doubled that amount of money so last year we had $10.2 million, all of which gets pushed out for scholarships.

Did you reach your goal of 10,000 students in dual enrollment? Yes. We’re still not quite at capacity, but we’re close. I think it’s probably reflected in the fall we had 10,000 that were enrolled. That is a duplicated headcount. We are encouraged by what is happening. A couple things are occuring: One, we are filling up that pipeline again. We’re also communicating to large numbers of individuals that there are jobs in this area and that the skills area is open for business. Once you get an opportunity to take a shot at it most of the students really enjoy what they’re doing.

Does business and industry help fund the course as well as develop the curriculum? Yes. One of the ways they fund it is they will provide equipment for labs. It’s not unusual for a piece of equipment to cost $500,000, $1 million; couple million dollars.

What’s the other program? I’m calling it an academy model. It’s probably something that I just made up. The way it works is using our dual enrollment money and using the relationship with business and industry – when an individual is in the 10th or 11th grade they begin work at the company while they’re finishing their high school work and while they are dually enrolled in one of our community colleges. For the remainder of their time in high school they are of course working toward their high school diploma. They are also accumulating dual enrollment credits, but they are also gaining that invaluable experience at the company. In many cases when they graduate from high school they then step into one of these high-pay jobs.

How many students are in that program? We’ve got a couple of pilot programs going. It would be less than 100 right now, but it’s a program that’s gaining a lot of interest. You are going to see many more of these pop up around the state in the future. Business and industry likes it for the reasons that you would think. They get a chance to take a look at these individuals and the good ones they will hire full time once they graduate from high school.

Earlier you were talking about the skills gap and wages between $40,000 and $80,000 a year. What type of jobs are those? They are all over the map within the high-wage, high-skills area that would certainly be in the whole area of manufacturing. That covers mechatronics, especially the robotics area. A lot of the electrical areas as it applies to business and industry. Welding is a huge area. I’ve got to include the allied health areas. Actually that’s the steepest trajectory for us. The greatest need is still in allied health – more than manufacturing.

I recently interviewed Deputy Commerce Secretary Ed Castile and he said that the Alabama Community College System is shifting its focus. How is the organization changing? There are a couple of things – consolidation and mergers. We started two of those. What we’re shooting for in general – what we have found and I know these are rough numbers – that if we have a college that is somewhere between 4,500 and 7,500 or 8,000 (students) that that is a very sustainable model for our tuition. The consolidations are aimed in part at that to take and create regional community colleges that effectively serve the region and at the same time are sustainable. Our current model is not sustainable with the budgets as they are now.

Will it take three to five years to complete the consolidations and mergers in the Alabama Community College System?  We’re hoping three years will do it. As we forge through this first two we are learning. We’re writing a book for ourselves for the remainder.

How is the organization shifting its focus? Once it’s all in place (mergers and consolidations) – initially consolidations cost you a little bit more because there is a lot of changeover, but then longer term it will be much more economical. Another shift is we’ve got to serve more students. We are maxed out in many of our programs.

How will there be opportunities for more students when you have half as many community colleges? Let’s say hypothetically you have a college that has 500 students and you have a full administrative staff that maybe costs you $2 million. All of a sudden that goes away and you have $2 million.

What is the next mechatronics-like program and are there some similar type of programs coming to Trenholm?  Absolutely. What we’re doing in a big way is working with the local businesses and what they’re doing in essence is help us create a program that will serve their specific needs. It will have another name, but it will be a program that will train their employees and it will be a different flavor that what Mercedes used.

It appears that business and industry are seeing the Alabama Community College System as their worker training ground and I’m not sure that was the case before. They do that, yes and related to that the kind of education we deliver is what a lot of businesses and industries are requiring. It’s longer term. It’s at least two years of training along with an apprenticeship or internship or something like that. In the case of Mercedes, they will take their best and they will be involved in three to five more years of training. When business and industry comes in and they need to set up shop, we identify folks – we don’t do this, but AIDT will stand up business and industry and screen individuals and do it very, very well. That’s an important part, but business and industry also has this longer-term training need. That’s what we certainly deliver and we stay in concert with K-12.

What does the Alabama Community College System look like in five years? We have a much leaner running system with an appropriate number of community colleges. We have specific training centers in each region of the state. Those training centers will be housed at the regional community college. We basically have a facility that is extremely nimble and reacts almost on a dime to business and industry.

An automotive training center in Montgomery? That’s exactly right. When I say the facility is connected it’s not necessarily a free-standing. It could (be rooms) in the revamped part of the existing community college. It is extremely responsive to the area needs of business and industry. This is something that business and industry can have a lot of confidence in and literally receive training very quickly as well as the longer-term education that would continue, which is consistent with our mission.

It now seems that the gamut of workforce development organizations from AIDT, ATN, Chamber, K-12 are all on the same page. They absolutely are. The leaders of those groups that you just mentioned meet on a regular basis to make sure they are serving business and industry and addressing the needs.

All the organizations share the same big goal. We do. We have a little different piece of the puzzle, but we all have the same goal. We have not always been as coordinated as we should, but it is changing. The statewide workforce council and the fact that this group meets on a regular basis has been incredibly helpful and important. 

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