‘Just in time’ Education – A new educational model for Community Colleges

An article posted on The Atlantic Cities, tells the story of the shutdown of a manufacturing plant and a community colleges unique approach to revitalization in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton was once home to a GM manufacturing plant which is now closed, leading to the loss of some 26,000 jobs. The shut down left many unemployed and the empty buildings a reminder that manufacturing jobs are long gone in Dayton. There is a bright spot on the map of Dayton however. Sinclair, a local community college is taking a new approach to higher education. In summation, the community college has a field of study in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs. The college’s President, Steven Johnson, explains that the UAV training program is part a new educational model, to prepare students for the diversified 21st century economy. Johnson explains that the typical 4 years of college from the age of 18 to 22 doesn’t work for everyone. He sees his community college as a place for ongoing learning and an opportunity for people to return to school to refresh their knowledge and possibly retrain in a new field. This is the new educational model he is calling ‘just in time’ education, paralleling the idea of ‘just in time’ production.

This had me thinking of Bristol Community College here on the south coast. Situated in the struggling economies of the south coast industrial cities, I wondered whether there were any programs available tailored to new technology that may be coming to the region. What I found was similar to that of Sinclair in Ohio. In the new era of green technology and renewable energy, the south coast has been the focus of the wind turbine project, Cape Wind. It seems as though Bristol Community College is prepping its students for ‘just in time’ education as well. The college offers a Mechanical Technology with Wind Power Career Program which contains courses in mathematics, manufacturing and materials. While only one course is offered pertaining specifically to wind technology, the program has many elective opportunities for specialized learning that would prepare students for a career in the wind energy manufacturing industry.

Nearly half of the population of the greater Dayton region, 550,000 people, has taken at least one class at Sinclair. Hopefully residents of the south coast can look at BCC as a place to refresh and retrain as many residents of the Dayton, Ohio area have to Sinclair Community College.

New life for old schools

Budgetary challenges, shifting populations, and outdated building stock have introduced another layer of complexity to already beleaguered urban school districts. But while a school district’s problem may be solved when a new school is built, in its wake lies yet another conundrum: what should be done with the now-vacant (and sometimes architecturally significant) school buildings that are left behind?

Both New Bedford and Fall River have recently closed schools in order to consolidate and/or rebuild. New Bedford’s Lincoln Elementary was constructed to replace the Phillips Avenue and Ottiwell schools, the latter of which is now home to New Bedford’s second charter school, Alma del Mar. Dunbar Elementary was recently shut due to low enrollments, so students were shuffled to nearby South End elementary schools. (To learn more, check out this Standard Times article that details the challenges of coping with old buildings and declining enrollments in Greater New Bedford).  In Fall River, bids were recently accepted from would-be buyers of five empty city schools. (It’s worth noting that this was the second round of bidding since August; then, two schools were successfully bid upon for $1,000 and $1.90, respectively.) Some sites have been eyed by prospective developers for razing and redevelopment, while others were seen as worthy of adaptive reuse.

One bidder, the Boston-based Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development, recently wrapped up a reuse project in New Bedford that converted Rivet Street’s Ingraham School into a mixed use site with subsidized housing for mothers on upper levels and nonprofit and community space on the ground floor. A similar project, Linden Street’s Acushnet Commons, continues to address the housing and service needs of women and families in New Bedford.

Beyond the WIHED model, best practices from other communities are easy to come by, offering cities with inspiration, good ideas, and even road maps to implementation.  Nevertheless, so much of any building’s successful reuse is tied to its context (location, location, location!). So while it would be great to see a replication of Portland, OR’s awesome elementary-school-turned hotel/bar/theaterin this neck of the woods, there seems to be little market for such a concept to be economically viable.

Source: http://brownturtlenecksweater.typepad.com/brown_turtleneck_sweater/2006/09/one_more_portla.html

Naturally, the state of the economy doesn’t lend itself to taking on big ideas or big risks with these sites. But at the same time, the potential impacts of prolonged vacancy on the condition of the building and the surrounding neighborhood can’t be ignored. Fall River’s efforts to act are thus laudable, but we hope that the resulting projects are consistent with the community’s needs and existing development plans.

Want to learn more? Here are some articles worth reading:

  • “Preserving and Reusing Surplus Municipal Facilities,” from the Berkshire Region Planning Commission (link)
  • “Finding new lives for old schoolhouses: Buildings convert to other uses,” from the Cleveland Plain Dealer (link)
  • “Creating Schools and Strengthening Communities through Adaptive Reuse,” from the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (link)

I Wish This Was

New Orleans artist Candy Chang created this project to engage city residents in a conversation about what to do with vacant storefronts. Read more about this innovative project here, and see the sticker for yourself below. Better yet, buy the sticker and start the conversation in your own community!

Source: http://candychang.com/i-wish-this-was/

This sounds a lot like a conversation my husband and I have when walking around our New Bedford neighborhood (our conclusions are almost always a bakery or a Jewish deli). But the idea of putting those ideas on a sticker is quite appealing, especially because the stickers are designed for easy removal by the person who puts those ideas into action.

Talkin’ ’bout my generation

More and more urban policy research is looking at the critical role today’s 20- and 30-somethings (sometimes called Generation Y or Millennials) play in our cities. Just today, Brookings reported on migration trends of the 25-34 set–we’re apparently leaving young adult bastions like New York and LA for “cool” places like Portland, Austin, and DC.

New Orleans is another non-traditional destination growing in popularity, according to this Next American City article. Indeed, I can count at least a handful of friends who have recently relocated to the Big Easy to teach, attend grad school, run nonprofits, and deal with the aftermath of the oil spill. This is hardly a valid or generalizable sample, but I doubt any of this crowd imagined themselves living in Louisiana upon graduating from college.

If there’s a land of opportunity for my cohort, a glut of sources suggest it’s Detroit. (I’d argue that it should also include Gateway Cities like New Bedford and Fall River, but that’s for another day.) A recent editorial in the Detroit News argues that “Millenials will save Detroit.” And they have plenty of opportunities to do so, from social networking sites like “I am young Detroit” to the Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program, which nurtures a new generation of city leaders. At least from an outsider’s perspective, Detroit seems to offer young people a blank canvas with which to try new ideas, get their hands dirty, and have their voices recognized in the policy process.


Design + data = accessible urban policy

I’m a big fan of GOOD magazine (or at least their website) for its ability to make policy topics engaging and relevant and its cross-disciplinary approach to tackling challenges in cities, education, the environment, etc. etc. They devote quite a bit of content to design, and my news feed highlighted a recent bit they did on a new initiative undertaken by AIGA (the design world’s professional association). Called Design for Good, this engages graphic designers in efforts to use their talents to improve outcomes in their communities.

At the end of the day, what good is policy research if it’s not easily understood by stakeholders? The visual display of information can help overcome the accessibility gap. Moreover, it’s easy to see how the marriage of policy and design will become almost essential to effective communication: for one, we’re increasingly used to getting our information in snapshots (see: this blog), so it would follow that the best way to compete with ever-shortening attention spans is to make data look cool. Finally, the proliferation of infographics makes Excel-generated charts and graphs look tired and antiquated. (Infographics:Wii as Excel charts:Atari.)

Aligned with AIGA’s efforts is GOOD’s recent challenge to designers to redesign the report card. Think about how effectively this could show parents not just where their kids stand, but how their kids compare to their peers in the classroom, district, and maybe even students statewide. It would be interesting to see if making student-level data more accessible and digestible will result in a higher level of parental empowerment and engagement.