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College @ the Leading Edge

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Closing the gap

The skills gap describes a misalignment between educational supply and economic demand, and it highlights the need for skills-driven degrees that prepare students for emerging careers and address workforce shortages. While many institutions of higher education face an uncertain future,  Thaddeus Stevens is poised at education’s leading edge—offering a direct path to rewarding careers and fulfilling lives, yet without burdening graduates with insurmountable debt.

College that meets the growing demand for skilled workers

A report by the Manufacturing Institute predicts that nearly 3.5 million US manufacturing jobs will open up over the next decade, but the skills gap will result in 2 million of those jobs going

The Business Roundtable says companies are having a difficult time filling jobs that require specialized skills, but not necessarily a traditional four-year degree, such as welders, energy and computer technicians, mechanics and tool and die makers. And with baby boomers retiring in record numbers, workforce shortages are accelerating.

That’s why two-year technical degree holders are beginning to outpace the annual earnings of many four-year graduates, according to Kevin Fleming, a national advocate of career and technical education (CTE). Employers are also aggressively recruiting. At Thaddeus Stevens, 1,300 regional employers with more than 3,000 job openings actively recruited members of the Class of 2017, of which there were only 415. That’s 8+ jobs per graduate.

“The STEM jobs currently needed nationally require hands-on technical skills, contextualized general education understanding, and industry credentials,” explains Fleming, dean of instruction for career and technical education programs at Norco College, Calif., who spoke at a Thaddeus Stevens event in February 2017. “We are producing many college graduates, but too few possess the employability, technical, and professional skills STEM employers are seeking.”

"Not only do our graduates find good jobs," says Laurie Grove, "we see so many of them moving into supervisory roles within the first years of employment."

Giving students tools for work and for life

Graduates of Thaddeus Stevens leave with more than just job-based skills. They’re prepared for work—and for life.

The depth and breadth of the College’s technical curriculum is designed to support soft-skills development, including teamwork, oral presentations, and long-term projects, which build social, communications and time management skills. In addition, the College’s General Studies requirements further develop communications, critical thinking and global awareness. Each college major has one or more industry mentors who have a regular presence in technical labs to conduct mock interviews, discuss careers and offer job shadowing.

Thaddeus Stevens also offers students applied learning experiences in just two years that rival or surpass opportunities at many four-year institutions. The College’s Home Construction Program is a great example, with students from several construction programs collaborating to build award-winning duplex homes in the community. A large percentage of students participate in paid internships, many of which lead to full-time offers prior to graduation.

“Over the past three years, 98 percent of employers we have surveyed say they are satisfied or very satisfied with the level of preparation of our graduates entering the workforce,” said Laurie
Grove, the College’s director of career services. “Not only do our graduates find good jobs, we see so many of them moving into supervisory roles within the first few years of employment.”

A golden ratio: low student debt/ high employability

And all this costs a lot less.

Nationwide, 44 million people owe $1.3 trillion in student debt. That’s more than the gross domestic product of Russia. The average 2016 graduate has more than $37,000 in student loan debt.

2 year technical degree

234 internships

415 students recruited by

1,300 regional employers

“Statistics like these have people questioning the value of higher education altogether, which is a shame,” says Dean of Enrollment Michael DeGroft. “You can find value in higher education—you just need the right degree.”

The average student loan debt for Thaddeus Stevens graduates is only about $7,000. Importantly, more than half of all students qualify for the Stevens Grant, which covers tuition, housing, meals, tools, and textbooks.

“These students are on the fast-track to a high-demand job with little or no debt as they start their career,” DeGroft says.

A fast return on educational investment

Compared to the general higher education landscape, the return on investment at Thaddeus Stevens is obvious.

Nationwide, it is estimated that half of university graduates are under-employed in what are known as “gray-collar jobs,” or positions that do not require the education they have received, according to Kevin Fleming. Meanwhile, four out of five Thaddeus Stevens graduates are employed full-time,
in their majors, immediately after graduation. Total graduate placement is between 96 and 99 percent.

Further, more than one in six grads from the Class of 2017 reported starting income of more than $50,000, which is a average debt-to-salary ratio of just 15 percent. That’s compared to the average bachelor’s degree holder, whose student debt-to-salary ratio is closer to 74 percent.

Dominic Bridi started on that path to a bachelor’s degree. But he’s thankful he changed course. As tuition continues to rise, students take on more debt to complete a degree only to compete with more baccalaureate graduates for fewer jobs. That’s why Dominic thinks more students should consider
their alternatives.

“A lot of high schools—and parents, too—push four-year schools,” he says. “I wish more of them would offer that there’s another option.”

Kevin Fleming's Success in the New Economy 

Thaddeus Stevens vs. ‘The Best’ Four-Year Colleges

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One of the most important things Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology offers students is value. So we were particularly interested when the financial publication Kiplinger released its list of “Best College Values, 2018.” The full list is behind a paywall, so PennLive summarized the 19 colleges from Pennsylvania that made the list.

Unfortunately, the rankings only consider four-year colleges. That’s shortsighted, and I’ll show you why.

The rankings consider five key factors: acceptance rate, graduation rate, cost per year, debt per graduate and a student’s average salary 10 years after starting college.

The top PA schools are a who’s who of the Commonwealth’s internationally-acclaimed institutions, including Bucknell, Carnegie Mellon, Franklin & Marshall, Penn, Penn State, Swarthmore and Temple. It is proper to hold these institutions in high regard.

But we want you to know how Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology measures up. We calculated the average in each ranking factor for all 19 of the PA four-year colleges on the Kiplinger list.

Then we charted our own information in the same graph. Since we are a two-year college, we counted our two-year graduation rate (vs. four-year grad rate for the schools on the Kiplinger list) and our graduate's average salary after eight years of starting college (vs. 10 years for four-year students).

The most glaring difference: cost and debt! That’s what we mean when we talk about value.

Pennsylvania is blessed with some of the finest institutions of higher learning in the world, and students should be encouraged to pursue degrees at any of the 19 colleges on Kiplinger’s list—and many others across the commonwealth.

But their four-year degrees are not the only path to financial success, and they often do not represent the best value in higher education.

That’s why we need intelligent publications like Kiplinger to think beyond the bachelor’s degree. Students and parents need to know there are other ways to achieve success.

Here's an interactive graph to compare the results. Click and move the vertical slider left to reveal the Thaddeus Stevens graph:

Dr. Parker is the vice president of academic affairs.

Posted by Dr. Zoann Parker with