16 weeks to a new job: Can certificate programs be game changers?

Joshua Eschke had a tumultuous first year at the University of Toledo, which included the death of a family member. Lorain County Community College in Elysia, Ohio, had offered him a scholarship after he completed college courses there while still in high school.

“I reached out to them and asked if I could get that same scholarship,” Mr. Eschke says.

Why We Wrote This

Adult learners can’t always devote two or four years to a degree. Can certificate programs help bridge the gap to better employment, and help companies fill labor shortages? The Monitor, in collaboration with six other newsrooms, is examining the challenges facing U.S. community colleges – and potential solutions – in a series called Saving the College Dream.

He enrolled in the one-year Earn and Learn certificate program in microelectromechanical systems. He took classes his first semester and now combines those with work at Rockwell Automation, a Fortune 500 company that partners with the school.

To fill private and public sector job vacancies, a growing trend in community colleges has been for students to take short-term certificate programs. These middle-skill positions could help balance labor shortages and keep workers competitive.

“We do a lot of listening and learning from our students, from our graduates, from our employers,” says Marcia Ballinger, president of LCCC, which offers 65 free fast-track certificate programs and the Earn and Learn program.

Mr. Eschke now earns $23 an hour. His only prior work experience had been making DoorDash deliveries and working as a tour guide.

“For only one semester and a certificate that is pretty amazing,” Mr. Eschke says.

Edward Cavaciuti was happy with his old life. For 25 years pre-pandemic, he DJed for a living in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland. He cleared $1,000 a week – at least – doing what he loved. 

“COVID literally ruined my business,” says Mr. Cavaciuti, a single father to a 15-year-old son. “I needed something a little more reliable with no college required.” 

Mr. Cavaciuti figured why not use the 6’ 2’’, 220-pound frame he was blessed with to earn a living doing security. 

Why We Wrote This

Adult learners can’t always devote two or four years to a degree. Can certificate programs help bridge the gap to better employment, and help companies fill labor shortages? The Monitor, in collaboration with six other newsrooms, is examining the challenges facing U.S. community colleges – and potential solutions – in a series called Saving the College Dream.

He got hired at Securitas USA in 2022. But to secure his job, he needed to complete a course and a licensure exam. In came Delaware Technical Community College via its continuing education/workforce training program. Mr. Cavaciuti took one course and passed a test, and his license is good for five years.

“There was no prior experience needed as a guard, and I was just looking for something different,” says Mr. Cavaciuti, who admits that he hated school and was never much interested in college.