MCTC helping undecided students figure out their course of action

Minnesota faces a looming shortage of skilled workers, and we look increasingly to our community and technical colleges to help solve it.

But here’s a big problem: Many first-year students enter college without any clear idea of what they want to do. They need a lot of help to figure that out—and if they don’t get it, they are likely to drop out. That’s a huge loss to the students themselves and to the employers who need the talents they bring.

A recent article in MinnPost showcased what one institution—Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC)—is doing to combat this problem.

The article points out that, while four-year college students have a couple years to decide on their course of study, two-year students have traditionally had to commit to a career pathway immediately. The potential for mistakes is high.

That’s why MCTC recently became one of the first community colleges in Minnesota “to make a more concerted effort to help students move from undecided to decided.”

The college’s first step, in 2015, was to increase the number of employees at its career services center. Its new employees include a career navigator, career and employer relations coordinator, and an internship as well as employer development coordinator.

Many students who enroll at MCTC without clear plans come from families with few or no college graduates. The college begins by connecting them to career assessment tests and then helps them investigate employment prospects and salaries in the fields that attract them. After that, students attend networking events with employers and industry professionals.

When the students have chosen a general career path, they take semester-long “exploratory” courses to help them select a specific major. They earn credits in these courses that count toward a variety of majors.

MCTC’s new model saves students both time and money, according to MinnPost:

These classes are part of an effort that MCTC initiated a year and a half ago to break away from a system that ‘forced’ undecided students to declare a major upon arriving at school.

“Historically, community colleges assumed that you’re decided or you have to be decided,” [Gail O’Kane, vice president and chief academic officer at MCTC] said.

“We’re saying that’s not reality. So…we’ve decided to design around the student and simplify our pathways, creating broad pathways so students can funnel in and figure out what’s best for them.”

O’Kane said that the system has already been successful in several other schools, including Georgia State University, which has reduced the number of students changing majors by a third after instituting a similar program.

MCTC also helps students find internships that often lead to full-time jobs:

For example, partner employers of the school provide students with a hands-on employment experience for one semester, while the students earn credits for their work.

In addition, MCTC uses grant money to help students find paid internships. In recent years, the school has been working Great Lakes, a Wisconsin-based company, which has a philanthropic project that funds thousands of low-income college students in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio.

At MCTC, [Julie Poyzer of the career services department] says, the project has put nearly 120 students into internships.