Program helping people succeed in college

Published 7:59 am Friday, October 15, 2010

There’s an opportunity brewing for people who are out of work or looking to get back into school.

Riverland Community College is partnering with the Austin and Albert Lea Adult Basic Education programs, as well as Workforce Development, Inc., to offer a program equivalent to five Riverland credits in the Production Technology program.

Fifteen people will be chosen to take three Riverland courses free of charge, with additional courses in college preparation and extra study help available.

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The courses, which include Technical Math, Introduction to Computers, Safety and OSHA, along with a college prep class are free for participants.

These courses are part of the college’s Production Technology I program and can fit into many manufacturing programs offered through Riverland. According to school officials, the courses are designed for people who want to pursue manufacturing jobs. In recent years, studies done by WDI have shown manufacturing to be a growing job area in southeast Minnesota.

There’s no prerequisites to apply for the program, according to Peggy Young, one of Riverland’s Training and Development coordinators.

“This is available to those who traditionally have not done well in a college setting or may not have tested high enough to get into Riverland,” Young said. “Basically, what they need is a real strong will to be successful to be in college.”

The manufacturing-focused program was created by grant money from the FastTRAC program, a joint initiative among the state Department of Education, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The Riverland/Austin/Albert Lea/WDI coalition received $109,000 in grant money from FastTRAC earlier this summer, in very quick time. This project is one of about a dozen around the state geared towards getting more people to succeed in their post-secondary education goals, in effect getting struggling people the training they need to gain available jobs.

“The purpose of this grant is to target the unemployed or the under skilled,” said Amy Baskin, Austin Public School’s director of Community Education.

It’s so new, the kinks are still being worked out. The courses will start in early November and continue through April, being offered in the afternoon three days a week. The location of the classes hasn’t been determined yet, as school officials don’t know how many people from either the Albert Lea or the Austin area will sign up for the program. The first course offered will act as a transition to college courses, teaching people good study skills and showing them things like filling out financial aid forms.

“It’s a class to help people get ready and set to be successful in college,” said Janice Mino, an ABE coordinator. “And they can hit the ground running once they can become a registered student.”

Subsequent courses like the math and computer classes, will be jointly taught by a Riverland instructor as well as an Adult Basic Education teacher who can step in to explain difficult concepts and provide additional study help.

“There are always going be those students who have the skills (necessary to do well), but the basic everyday reading and math skills just don’t click,” Young said.

Once the participants go through each of the courses, they’ll be expected to take the same exams other students will be taking. School officials hope that once through, these participants will want to enroll in one of several manufacturing-related programs at Riverland, or seek further education at another post-secondary institution.

The FastTRAC program will be offered this fall and next, thanks to the grant money. Educators will be monitoring each group’s progress as they go through the program, testing participants’ knowledge of basic reading and math skills in the beginning and at the end of the 22-week program to see if they’ve made any improvements. They’ll report this, as well as any difficulties a group might have with the courses, back to the state coalition as part of the grant requirements to study how well adult learners can learn in a classroom setting.

Those who wish to participate in the FastTRAC program can sign up by contacting Stacy Edland of the Minnesota Workforce Center at 507-433-0555 or