IBJ: Lewis and Clark Community College is leading a consortium of nine community colleges in eight Mississippi River states that have been awarded $23.8 million in federal funds to train and place workers in high-skill transportation, distribution and logistics jobs. LCCC will receive $4.9 million for its part. How did the consortium come to be?
Chapman: When we formed the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center we were asked (in 2010) to present at the AACC (American Association of Community College) national conference about community colleges involved in research. When I presented at the national meeting, it occurred to this one (AACC) vice president, Jim McKenney, that other community colleges really ought to think about this. He invited — here — the state directors (of community college systems in Kentucky, Louisiana, Illinois and Minnesota), and we talked about how it would be interesting to align community colleges at least along the main stem of the river … into a workforce initiative embracing the river as a series of occupational clusters that, if the community colleges were all organized properly, could serve private sector industry a lot better than we do now.
IBJ: How did LCCC get to be the lead agency in this Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Careering Training (TAACCCT) grant?
Chapman: When the Department of Labor grants came along … it just seemed like, given our NGRREC 12-year history, that we were much more advanced in our thinking about how the river can be an occupational cluster for community colleges up and down the river. It was a pretty practical reason. And then certain colleges couldn’t take the lead (for other reasons). One of our concerns was (capability). We have the financial oversight. We have the evaluation oversight. You have to have terrific people in place and hire terrific people to scale up to do this. We thought we were in good position to do this with the access we had to the kind of terrific people already doing river-related-mission things.
IBJ: What is the timetable?
Chapman: It’s a four-year grant. Three years are demonstrating the programmatics of it. The last year is kind of pulling the plant to see if the roots are growing. We’ll be looking at evaluation, proving that it works at a high level. The chancellors and the presidents of these nine community colleges will be the steering committee. They will evaluate other ideas that come into this, that’s beyond (the scope of the grant). Now that we have this infrastructure kind of in place, what else can we put into this vessel, so that it’s sustainable? Part of the evaluation in the fourth year is to quantitatively evaluate, ‘Did we do what we said we’d do’ and to qualitatively evaluate to see if we’re functioning as a consortium.
IBJ: What does the TAACCCT grant represent?
Chapman:. On the one hand getting the financial backing is terrific, but more importantly, I think, is standing up the infrastructure that never existed before, of these community colleges that all want to work on river-related issues.
These colleges are used to working on, say, certification of welders or process operations technology (refinery training), but haven’t communicated with their sister institutions up and down the river on those themes. I’ve met the president of Ingram Barge (in Tennessee) and he’s looking for welders from Minneapolis to New Orleans. We’re in welding, Delgado (Community College) is in welding. How do we let the private sector know that, learn from each other’s best practices, and build a kind of road map from the headwaters to the Gulf?
The other partner is the Corps of Engineers. We wanted at least one college in each of the six corps districts (involved). We signed a national memorandum of agreement with the Corps of Engineers at the Mississippi River Commission Center in Vicksburg.
IBJ: What are some of the ramifications of this project?
Chapman: Once this infrastructure is in place, the port districts will start to use it. We’ve already had conversations with the New Orleans Port and America’s Central Port (in Granite City), which is looking at extending the port district up through Alton. Right now … South Africa is putting $20 billion into expanding the Port District in New Orleans. … so they can get energy and food back to South Africa. People are betting on the United States because (of its resources) and stability as a nation. They can’t depend on that in other parts of the world.
Delgado Community College (in New Orleans) is building a port-based community college that does only port occupational (subject) areas. What can we learn from Delgado? What can we do in our port district? How do we think in those terms?
IBJ: There are so many jurisdictions involved …
Chapman: The Department of Labor just loved it (the multi-jurisdictional consortium idea). I think they thought it really went to the heart and spirit of what this workforce initiative was designed to do. The head of the program came here for a kickoff … and he as much as said it. What’s a more dynamic sector of the economy than the billions of dollars this river generates for the nation’s economy?
IBJ: What will be the best outcome?
Chapman: I think we’ll meet and exceed expectations of the Department of Labor, I feel pretty confident about that. There are really good people involved.
I think the EPA, Corps of Engineers and Department of Agriculture will all put their own projects into the network. This river touches a lot of occupational clusters.
IBJ: How much does the economy play in this kind of grant?
Chapman: Five years ago there was (less federal interest) in community colleges. Somebody at the policy level said, ‘We ought to be more aligned with community colleges because they can quickly get people trained for this mismatch between the skill jobs that industry wants and people operating here without the skill jobs.’ It was kind of a discovery that community colleges might have something to do with the skill sets of the middle class and the workforce of this country.
IBJ: What will be the affect on LCCC programs?
Chapman: Welding will be the locus of our planned Workforce Building. We received a $2.5 million grant (from the estate of Ed Weber of Hartford, a longtime laborer who died last year). We’ll put money with it … toward a freestanding building.
We have two new programs, Logistics Tech and truck driver training. Truck driving training would be done in two tracks (experienced and entry level). We’ll need a rodeo course for that, and we’re looking for one right now.
We’re looking at doubling the size of our Process Operations Technology program.
We’re working with the Illinois Manufacturers Association on some of these programs to decide which ones we’re going to offer and getting into the high schools so that people see that manufacturing is a noble and wonderful job and career path.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Other members of the consortium are: John Woods Community College in Quincy; Hinds Community College, Raymond, Miss.; Mid-South Community College, West Memphis, Ark.; Minnesota State College – Southeast Technical, Winona, Minn.; St. Louis Community College; Southwest Tennessee Community College, Memphis, Tenn.; and West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah, Ky.